Video Interview with Charles Maring

Last week I jumped on Google Hangouts with my friend Charles Maring. This was my first time using hangouts in this way so I am sorry you have to stare at my face while he is talking 🙂

During this interview, Charles and I talk about his approach to lighting as well as where he finds inspiration. Below you will find information about Charles and his wife as well as where to find them online!

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Exploring the Ringlight

As a way to share different lighting styles I am learning, I wanted to start a new category called “How I got the shot”. My goal is to share how I lit the shot, with diagrams so you can recreate the image if you like it! As always if you have questions or need 1 on 1 help please feel free to reach out in the comments or via email!

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Getting Started with Off Camera Flash (OCF)

Recently a reader of the blog sent me a question. He wanted to know what I recommend to get started with getting the flash off of the camera. Are you asking yourself the same question? Read on to learn more!

Here is the reader’s question:

I have a question you can help me with.  As you know I am on a budget and need to get some off camera flash.  I am looking for most likely one flash on a stand/modifier and soft box.

One thing for certain is I want to have the part that goes on my camera hot shoe to trigger the flash.

I do know I want a stand that has a shock absorber in it.

Ideally what size and brand do I want for a soft box?

For all 3 areas (flash, softbox, and stand) I will offer a good, better, and best for readers that are thinking about ordering there first off camera flash.

Ok, so this is a multi part question. Let’s start with the flash.

If I were starting over again I would look for a flash system that offers 3 things.

  1. Scalable. As you can see above, the user is just starting out and wants to have a single flash. Looking back I would look at a system that is easily scalable to more flashes or other technology like strobes.
  2. Simple. Starting out I tried to understand TTL and HSS and all of the other acronyms that come with lighting and I was quickly overwhelmed. I turned all of that stuff off and went all manual. Slowly I learned different technologies and added them to my repertoire. So if I was starting over I would find a flash that has these technologies but not use them right away.
  3. Affordable. There is definitely a difference between cheap and affordable. When you are looking at off camera flashes I can tell you that you get what you pay for. If I was starting again I would not spend the hundreds of $’s on name brand hardware especially something like a speedlight that has the potential to fall off of a stand.

Drumroll please……

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Although I am currently testing out the Profoto ecosystem, If I were starting out today I would choose the Godox system for the 3 reasons mentioned above as well as the ability to have rechargeable batteries and the ability to re-program the firmware to be able to be used on any system (Nikon, Canon, Sony, Panasonic, Fuji, and Olympus)

 

Flash + Trigger:

All of the flashes I mention below are in the Godox line of products. It is worth noting as you are shopping you need to purchase the correct version of the light for your camera.

Option A

The first option uses the “master” mode on the flash to control the power and trigger the other light. This is a great start for most people as you have 2 high powered lights to start with and you have full ttl, hss, and radio triggering all built in.

Flash: Godox V860II x 2

Cost: $400 for 2 flashes (Using 1 as a trigger and 1 as a slave)

Option B:

This is a more traditional trigger and flash system utilizing the V860ii flash and the X1T trigger. This system allows you to have full TTL, HSS as well as radio triggering.

Trigger: X1T

Flash: V860II

Total Cost: $249

Option C:

This option is the same as above except you dont have access to TTL. This is an all manual flash that you control the power from the trigger.

Trigger: X1T

Flash: V850ii (No TTL)

Cost $195 in the kit

You can find all 3 kits here: https://kit.com/tjhouston

 

Stand:

When it comes to stands I feel you need to determine what is important to you. I own and use all 3 stands below for different reasons. If I know it is gonna be windy I bring a long a Cstand because they are sturdy. If I know I will be walking a lot and I don’t want to have to carry a lot of weight I bring a long the nano stand and if I need a general purpose stand that I can use for everything I go for the promaster.

You can find all of these stands here:

https://kit.com/tjhouston/off-camera-flash-lighting-stands

Option A:

If I were to start again I would invest in a Cstand. Some think they are large but they actually fold down to a manageable size. These stands are the most sturdy stand you can get and they are also the ones that are used in large productions and on movie sets.

Cost: $139

Option B:

Promaster LS-2 Light Stand. I have used these stands for several years. From rivers to back alleys these stands really “Stand Up” and take a beating. Sorry I couldn’t help myself 

Cost: $39.95

Option C:

If someone is looking for a compact light stand to hold their flash I would suggest the Manfrotto Nano Stands. These stands are ultra compact and fold down smaller than your tripod. They don’t hold a lot of weight but will hold the bare necessities if needed.

Cost: $57.00

 

Softbox:

Much like stands, softboxes are definitely a specialized tool based on how you want to control the light. The 3 that I list here are all 3 that I use in my kit and all create beautifully shaped light.

Option A:

My very first modifier I purchased was a Westcott Rapid box about 5 years ago and it still works great. Westcott makes well built products that stand the test of time.

Westcott Rapid Box

Cost: $169

Option B:

These foldable softboxes make for great little light shapers that fold down flat. This is great for travel as you can pack them super small and they can fit into your carryon!

Foldable Softbox w/ Bracket

Cost: $46.99

Option C:

I keep one of these umbrellas in all of my vehicles because I know I can create great lighting super easy. The brolly umbrella gives you nice diffused light in a small package.

Fotodiox Brolly Umbrella

Cost: $21.85

No matter what combination that you choose from above, I promise you will not be dissapointed. If you have a specific need and would like suggestions please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at tj at tjhouston.com!

Here are the 3 kits that I put together for you in rank of Good, Better, and Best.

https://kit.com/tjhouston/good-off-camera-lighting-kit-for-beginners-sony-nikon-canon-fuji-olympus

https://kit.com/tjhouston/better-off-camera-lighting-kit-for-beginners-sony-nikon-canon-fuji-olympus

https://kit.com/tjhouston/best-off-camera-lighting-kit-for-beginners-sony-nikon-canon-fuji-olympus

Lighting Challenge: Depart Your Comfort Zone

As photographers, we should always be looking at ways to get out of our comfort zone in order to grow. You can achieve this by shooting outside of your niche, going to a play or taking part in an event you normally wouldn’t go to. A less traditional approach, and one that I attempted this weekend was asking strangers to take their portraits.

Last night my wife and I were spending our last evening in Washington D.C.’s National Harbor area and I had been itching to try out some new gear that I had just purchased. We went to grab dinner at the english pub and the bartender had a “majestic” beard and he was someone that I really wanted to photograph. 

After stewing for a little while I looked over to my wife and said: “I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna ask him if I could make a portrait of him”. She looked at me with a strange look, I think she was waiting for an April fools punchline, but I was serious. The next time the bartender checked on us, I asked him if I could take some photos of him and he looked at me to see if I was serious and said sure! 

We walked back to the hotel, grabbed the lights and came back. As I was walking back I was starting to get ideas for what look I was going for and what photos I wanted. Because I just purchased the lights I didn’t have any modifiers nor a light stand but I had to deal with what I had. 

Once we got back to the pub, none of the shots that I had in my head were working out. For some reason I thought I would have the bartenders un-divided attention but what I failed to realize was the bartender couldn’t stop working so I had to improvise. 

After all was done, I fell in love with the image below. My goal was to convey his bright personality, his animated nature, and of course his skill as a bartender. I feel like this image conveys all 3. 

Key Takeaways

  • Always be ready for the change, it is inevitable. 
  • Be confident in your skills
  • Be willing to try something new
  • Commit, don’t quit

Gear: 

GH5S: https://amzn.to/2IY3gqq
Lumix 12-35: https://amzn.to/2JPP4Rw
Profoto B1: https://amzn.to/2H68Iaw
Profoto Air Trigger: https://amzn.to/2vhtWR5
Profoto Grid: https://amzn.to/2Hscs9q

 

Exploring Hollywood Lighting

My friend and mentor James Schmelzer is known for his hard lit images that echo the early Hollywood days especially the work of George Hurrell. Today I picked up a Cucoloris (Cookie) and worked on getting that signature Hollywood look. Below I share what I learned as well as the tools I used to create the images below! 

If you haven’t seen James Schmelzer’s work be sure to check out his instagram over at https://www.instagram.com/jamesschmelzerworkshops/

To get you in the mindset, first here is the inspiration board that I was building off of for the shoot today: https://pin.it/uh24tdvk5gcgg3

As you can see from the photos these photos utilized what we would call “hard light” modifiers. Grids, Snoots, Barn Doors, and Flags are your best friend when it comes to this type of lighting. 

Background

My goal for the background is to have light and shadows just to break up the otherwise plain background. To accomplish this I setup the Cucoloris (https://amzn.to/2GRJ1hF) with my B1 pointing through. 

 As you can see, there is some spill onto the background with this setup so I changed the grid to the 10 degree to focus the light more.
As you can see, there is some spill onto the background with this setup so I changed the grid to the 10 degree to focus the light more.

Key Light

For my key light I knew that I needed it to be very focused and not spill onto the background. As you can see from the image above, the light is very focused into a tight circle and it is very directional. I accomplished this by using the 20 degree grid on my 2nd B1. 

You can find a link to the grids here for Profoto: https://amzn.to/2qob1Pw

Also I have these grids that also work quite well: https://amzn.to/2qq0mTR

Here is a pull back using the gridded B1 as the key light, notice the harshness as well as the control that you have by using the grids. (Sorry for the iPhone quality) 

What I learned.

The nose shadow is KEY.

The nose shadow is what determines the look of the overall photo. I noticed during the shoot I was constantly having the model change just her face in order to keep the shadow exactly how I wanted it. In my head I was looking for butterfly, loop, and Rembrandt to give me different looks to pick from in post. 

Light spill is really hard to control

One thing I found while doing this exercise was how hard it is to control light spill from the flash head. I found myself using flags in order to keep light off of certain parts of the scene. Do yourself a favor and have some flags or cardboard handy to help block the light from spilling all over the scene. 

Using the cookie to light as the Key light creates a really cool look

I really liked the look that the cookie was creating on the background so I decided to use it as a key light in order to light just the face. Overall this created a unique look that I really enjoyed. 

In camera black and white is your friend

While I was shooting these images I had my camera set to both raw and jpg and I had my camera set to black and white mode. Doing both raw and jpg allows you to have a raw file that you can work with in post as well as a black and white jpg exactly how you see it on screen. There was just something about seeing the black and white, well lit image, in the viewfinder while I was shooting that got me super excited. Also having the black and white allows you to show your model exactly the look you are going for. 

Post Processing

For these images I used On1 Photo Raw to create a unique film look both in color and in black and white. Here are the 2 On1 presets I created to get a color film look as well as black and white. 

 

Color

Black and White

Gallery of my faves

Overall this was a fun exercise. I really enjoyed the looks I was getting right out of camera. For this shoot I used the Panasonic Lumix Gx8 and the Leica 12-60. 

Check out George Hurrell’s Hollywood, a book full of inspiration from the man himself: https://amzn.to/2vbnSd4

For all of the gear used in this shoot check out the full kit

If you give this a try, leave your images in the comments below! 

 

Friday Inspiration: 5 ways to get your creative juices flowing at the local mall

For years I struggled to find sources of inspiration for my shoots. I would constantly study posing cards and search Instagram but I never really pushed myself to try anything out of the ordinary. As I was walking around the mall last week it hit me. The mall or any shopping area is a GREAT place to get your inspiration in high gear! 

1. Watch the light

One thing I noticed as I was patiently waiting for my wife to come out of the store was all of the different lighting patterns, shadows, highlights and how they changed. If you look at the image below you can see how light is coming through the glass panels at the top and reflecting off of the building. You can see some of the stores on fall under brighter areas where some are in the shade. Ask yourself, if you were shooting here where would your subject be? Where is the best light? Where is the worst light? Doing exercises when you are out and about help to train your brain to start to see the light and when you are working with a client or model you will be able to quickly identify where to place them! 

2. People Watching

Taking the above exercise a step further, watch how people interact with each other, watch how they walk, watch their expressions. Just like the above exercise will help you with lighting, this exercise will help you to know how humans naturally interact with one another as well as their environment. Another great activity is to study their facial features. Do they have a long nose? How would you light it to hide the nose and make it look smaller? Do they have nice cheek bones that you could use a beauty setup with? Being able to quickly identify features will help you in studio to identify how to light a person. 

3. Find inspiration in the advertisements

The two images below show two really different types of shoots that I would love to do. One is very high fashion and the other is very edgy sports. I plan to use these two images to put together a styled shoot where I can create similar work for my portfolio. They key for finding images like these two is to find things outside of your comfort zone. Once you are outside of your comfort zone that is where the magic happens! 

 

4. Identify what the target demographic is by studying the ads

I challenge you to go into a store that you normally wouldn’t go into. For example maybe you are not a very active person and never shop at Under Armor. Go into under armor and figure out what are the ads trying to convey? Who is their target demographic? Being able to identify this will help you identify how you will sell to certain clients.

Example: Maybe you want to focus on high end headshots in your business. As you are identifying your target demographic, find out where they shop and then go there. What do you see? What are the ads conveying? What location are they shooting in? What props are in the photos? Doing this exercise is like having a highly paid marketing team working for you and doing the work for you! 

5. Figure out how images are lit 

The below image is the whole reason that I decided to write this article. I sat in front of this window for a solid 10 minutes studying the image. I found myself studying the lighting and figuring out how the photographer created this dynamic image and how I could re-create this. 

How was this image lit? What modifiers did they use? Was it natural light or was it artificial? 

 

Here is a video where I share the points that I made in the post above!

 

Hopefully this sparked your creativity a little bit and I challenge you to go out there and be inspired by the environment around you. Please share some photos of what you find in your local shopping area in the comments below!