There are some photo ideas that have been done so much that I will probably never do them, unless I think I can build on them to produce something a little bit different. This one has been on my photographic to-do list for some time, and I’m not done with it just yet, however I thought I’d share the journey so far.
I started to write this one up as the next “photography myths” post and had planned some demo shots, however Neil Van Niekerk explained it all brilliantly on his blog here: Tangents back in 2009. Go there now and read it! Neil’s blog is full of great articles on using flash, and a whole boatload of other photographic technique. Here’s my summary, but for more detail – read Neil’s blog!
The next “myth and misdirection” you will come across as a photographer learning how to use flash, especially with natural/ambient light is this phrase:-
“Shutter speed controls ambient, aperture controls flash only”
Which is nonsense. If you stop down your aperture, it affects all light in the scene – there’s no special “back door” for the ambient light. The whole picture will get darker.
For manual controlled flash power within normal x-sync range of shutter speeds:-
- Shutter speed controls ambient light
- Aperture controls flash and ambient light
- ISO controls flash and ambient light
- The flash power adjustment buttons on your light, control…. flash!
For TTL automatic flash exposure systems (camera on manual, flash on TTL ) the flash exposure is constant, as long as it is within the bounds of the flash gun to supply enough light, and the camera and subject remain reasonably still in relation to each other. Close down the aperture? The flash puts out more light so the flash exposure is the same. Raise the ISO? The flashgun reduces the power so the flash exposure remains the same. Move the light? The flashgun adjusts and the flash exposure remains constant. The ambient light doesn’t react to these changes in shutter speed and aperture though, so ambient light exposure continues to change as before. Stop down the aperture? The ambient light exposure reduces – flash exposure stays the same.
So for TTL flash with normal x-sync:-
- Shutter speed controls ambient light
- Aperture controls ambient light
- ISO controls ambient light
- Flash exposure compensation controls – flash.
and finally, for “high speed sync” flash where the flash pulses to cover the entire shutter operation, the flash effectively becomes a continuous light so:-
- Shutter speed controls ambient light and “flash”
- Aperture controls ambient light and “flash”
- ISO controls ambient light and “flash”
- Flash power controls – “flash”.
It’s no surprise newcomers to photography get confused when so much of the received wisdom they hear is not quite right. Alongside “aperture controls flash, shutter speed controls ambient” this is one of the most ubiquitous myths that do the rounds. The converse is also untrue: wide angle lenses do not distort (at least not because of the focal length, they may of course have defects in their design and manufacture).
“But” I hear you say “if I take a picture of someone with a wide angle, their features look all distorted, they have a big nose and their entire head looks like a football! If I use a telephoto lens, they look much more natural.”
My travel lens solution for my Nikon D810 is the Nikon 28-300mm super-zoom. This enables me to walk around, without a bag full of lenses, that can get stolen. It also means I can capture things on the go when changing lenses, would mean the moment is lost, or you just end up annoying your family while they wait for you to faff around in the bag. I carry the camera on a Black Rapid strap: it sits on my right hip, ready to go if something interesting should appear (lens cap off, lens hood on).
The only downside to this is that, well, 28mm aint that wide. I can sometimes persuade my wife to carry my little Nikon 20mm f/2.8 AIS in here shoulder bag, ad have tried carrying it in my pockets before. The problem with this arrangement though, is if you swap out the 28-300mm for the 20mm, you now have a large 2 pound lens to carry around – which doesn’t really fit in your pocket. I sometimes hide the $1300 lens and come back for it, but this is far from ideal – even in remote locations where there’s no one around to walk off with it.
However, there is a modern day solution. On the odd occasion I need something wider than 28mm, I just make a wide angle pano, and stitch it in Photoshop. Here’s an example: for some reason, the ancient walled city of Dubrovnik has more than it;s fair share of basketball courts – just staring back atcha from the stone walls, gleaming limestone pavements and elegant towers. I couldn’t fit this into 28mm – not by a long way, so I took 2 shots at 28mm and gave them to Photoshop. Clicked all the boxes apart from the content aware fill of edges (the content in this case was too complex) and we get the result at the bottom. Not bad. Note – Lightroom is, as yet unable to do this correctly. It has a go, but there’s a definite seam every time, as it can’t deal with the wildly different angles.
To do this from Lightroom couldn’t be simpler. Adjust one image, sync these settings to the other one, select both images, right-click and select “Edit in.. | Merge to panorama in Photoshop”. Leave everything on auto and check all the boxes except content aware fill. Only check this one if the edges of the frame are simple (sky, water, grass etc). Click go, flatten the image, save and close. Your stitched panorama will appear back in Lightroom.
I’ve gone to the air show at RAF Cosford for the last 3 years and whilst I’m by no means a dedicated aircraft shooter, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learnt in that time.
Using the setup I described in the last post (sigma 105mm macro on 3 extension tubes with electrical connection pass-through. Lighting from one on-camera SB900 with Rogue Flashbender XL II softbox), I captured a few insect shots including this one of two ants farming some aphids on a foxglove. The ants stroke the aphids to encourage them to release a sweet liquid commonly referred to as “honeydew”. They defend them from predators (ladybirds mostly) and even carry them to greener pastures when the food is exhausted. Getting the head in focus took probably about 15 shots on a stepladder. All the light here is from the flash, firing on TTL at –0.3 EV. Continue reading
I watched Tony Northrup’s video on how to interpret the test scores on DxOMark (click here to watch this). Tony and Chelsea’s videos are always well researched and I recommend them as a source of objective information. Moreover – Tony takes a scientific approach to the research. What does this mean? Well, science is all about fact and evidence, and if you find evidence that contravenes your hypothesis, you need a new, or least modified hypothesis. Tony does this – if he finds evidence that what he thought before was wrong, he changes what he says. Not everybody can grasp this as can be seen in the comments below his videos 😛
In this video he observed from DxO’s test charts that especially for the sensors in Nikon bodies, there was almost a 1:1 trade off in dynamic range for every stop you gained in sensitivity – so in theory, you were not really gaining anything. E.g., if you shoot at ISO 100, and then same thing again at ISO 200, you gained a stop of exposure, but lost a stop of dynamic range. The extra dynamic range in the ISO 100 shot, allows you to bring it up a stop in post to match the exposure of the ISO 200 shot, with pretty much the same results.
I have a bunch of Nikon bodies so I thought I’d test this. I used my D810 for these test shots. I took 3 shots in manual exposure. One at 1/320th of a second, f/8 and ISO 3200. Then I took the same shot but at ISO 100, and added 5 stop of exposure to it in Lightroom. As a reference I then kept it at ISO 100 and dialled in 5 stops of exposure time to get a clean shot at 1/10th of a second, f/8 and ISO 100. Here they are:-
Fancy doing some insect macro out in the wild and I’ve been trying out various lens solutions and lighting. Last time I did any of this I just brought the flies into the studio and this works well. See here. This time I wanted portable rig for capturing the flies in their natural environment. Here’s the first rig. A Sigma 105mm Macro with some passive extension tubes on it to give more magnification, but with the loss of auto-aperture control. Normally, with modern automatic cameras, the aperture diaphragm is wide open when you are looking through the finder, and only stops down to the aperture you dialled in when you take the shot. This means there is plenty of light to see and focus the subject by. Without auto-aperture control, you either have to open up and stop down the aperture using the aperture ring manually (and in doing this you’re mess up your focus) or you need to look into the darkness and attempt to focus the subject with the aperture stopped down. As you can imagine, the success rate isn’t high :-/
For the light I jammed on a small soft box, which has enough surface visible to the subject to cast some light on it. Most of the light is lost though, and it’s a bit harsh. I’ve switched out the soft box for the Rogue Flash bender XL with the soft box attachment. This gives a good wrap around light and the best bit is that of course, you can bend it, so if you want more light on the right or left you can bend the appropriate side down, or bend the far edge down for some more backlight etc. The subjects will be around 40mm from the front of the lens (or back of the lens in this pic as it’s reversed :P) so from that position it’s a really nice soft light.
I’m just using the flash on TTL, with the camera in manual exposure, 1/250th of a second at around f/8 to f/16. I’ve left auto ISO on for these as well. As you’ll see below, this means more or less ambient in the scene depending on the magnification, with an almost black background for the higher magnification shots, as the ratio of distance to camera (and the light) between subject and background increases (and so the light falloff is more pronounced).