How did you get your start in photography? Have you always done what you’re doing now, or did you start with one or many genres of work and then gravitate to your current style? Well, I’m not the photographer that was given a camera at a young age or the photographer that followed in his father’s footsteps. I’m also not the photographer with a darkroom and film background. I actually never had any desire to become a photographer at all. I was a freelance graphic designer for NBC, Universal Studios, MGM, A&E, FOX, Disney, and many others — who one day decided to put everything he owned in a storage unit and follow his dream of world travel.
I know it sounds like I had everything figured out but I had no idea how I was going to make it work. I had the confidence that it would work itself out, but a lot of the time it was hope. I decided to come up with a monthly figure that I needed each month to travel and live on, then I divided that number by 3 and pitched my top 3 clients an all you can eat package and suggested a 6 month retainer. Between the 3 clients I reached the figure I needed each month and I was able to lock in paychecks for the next 6 months.
That idea landed me on 62 flights in 10 months and provided me with 2 ½ years of world travel while living out of a suitcase. I was living a life worth documenting so I documented it just like anyone else would. Photography itself started to become appealing when all the iPhone photo editing apps started to emerge.
Having a mini Photoshop in my pocket appealed to my graphic design background and when Instagram came out, it was icing on the cake. Photo editing apps and Instagram gave me a greater purpose to share my photos in real time with those I was out of touch with, rather than having them just sit on my phone. That’s when I went from taking point and shoot vacation photos to putting thought, effort and creativity into each photo. I became passionate about it and I wanted to become better. The study and learning process is what got me into photography.
As time went on and I felt like I was getting to a place that I was comfortable with in my photography. I knew I had another talent to offer my network of friends so I began putting the word out and swinging for the fences when looking for new opportunities.
Prior to photography I worked on some big projects as a graphic designer and I definitely had to pay my my dues. I went from being a starving artist all the way to working on the Dark Knight, Twilight, New Moon, WATCHMEN and countless other great projects. But once I decided to take the leap into becoming a professional photographer I realized I was a starving artist all over again — and I hated it.
I hit the reset button on my career at midlife. I went from the peak of my design career and having 15+ years experience under my belt to being an amateur without any experience under my belt and a world full of competition all over again. I did my best to leverage both backgrounds in my pitches while I continued to aim for gigs out of my ballpark. I had nothing to lose.
Because I was traveling, I had a lot of travel photos. I decided to make a website with my photo work and it was all travel work and I labeled myself a Travel Photographer. Once I had some decent landscape and cityscape shots, my friends in the music industry started to notice and opportunities in music started to land. I used each one as a launchpad to get me to the next level.
I ended up going on tour with Ne-Yo, shooting the top 5 EDM DJs on 5 different continents and winning a photography award all in my first 2 years. A lot of you may ask how? Hustle and persistence is all I can say to that. I believe you have to align yourself with the opportunities you want and you have to be strategic and persistent. Find the gatekeepers that hold the power to what you want and beat down doors until someone lets you in. Everyone has something they need and something they can offer; it’s up to you to connect those dots.
Being a great photographer in 2016 isn’t enough. You have to be a great marketer. An ‘ok’ photographer who is great at marketing can make it further than a great photographer who is terrible at marketing. I don’t think that’s fair but that’s the game and sometimes you can’t change the game, all you can do is play it.
What led to you getting such intimate access with Kendrick Lamar? I believe it’s a combination of trust, respect for my work and knowing the right people. Growing up we all used to hear the phrase, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” — but I disagree. It’s definitely both.
My name is Brian Podnos and my wife Donna and I run an architectural and interiors photography company based in NYC called Donna Dotan Photography. I wanted to share the interesting process by which we recently created a 60 foot photo for a client.
Before I get into the making of this photo, here is a bit of context surrounding the job:
While doing a photoshoot of model units for a new development, the client asked Donna and I to photograph the view from on top of the construction site for a print. We happily obliged and got a great shot at sunset. The view was NYC with Citi Field in the foreground.
For the shot, we used a Canon 5D Mark III with a 24-70 zoom lens.
After delivering the image, the client told us the resolution wasn’t high enough. They wanted the image to be printed as wallpaper to cover their sales gallery wall of 60 ft by 9 ft.
They asked us to redo the shot. However, in order for everything to be ready for an upcoming event in the sales gallery the following week, we only had three days to deliver the image.
Okay, so lots of pressure, not a lot of time to figure out the best way to approach the project. One thing we knew was that we wanted a medium format camera system in order to get that kind of image quality. People were going to be looking at this photo from less than a foot away, so we wanted to make sure we had the best resolution possible. Going medium format would be a risk because we only had one opportunity to do it right, it’s a very expensive system to rent, and it was something we had never done before! However, Donna and I felt that the reward outweighed the risk, and this way we would ensure that the resolution was the best it could possibly be.
The Phase One IQ3 100MP system had just been released, and we really wanted to utilize the latest and greatest sensor on the market (100MP!). After some adversity (you’ll see in the video) we were able to rent the camera. At this point we were left with only one day to get the shot, edit the file and deliver it to the printers!
Everything had to go according to plan. The weather had to cooperate, we had to learn the mechanics behind the camera system the day of the project, and we had to figure out exactly by what method we would create the photo. Since the wall was 60 feet wide, we figured we would have to shoot multiple panels and stitch them together in post (even with a medium format system and 100MP sensor, a single shot wouldn’t be sufficient), but we weren’t sure if we should use a rail or a tripod. We also didn’t know if we should photograph in the horizontal or vertical orientation, or if we should capture the panels top-down or left-right (or both!). Lastly, we weren’t sure which lens would be most appropriate. Lots of questions, not a lot of time to spare.
After much deliberation, we decided to take multiple lenses and figure the rest out on site. Thankfully, the weather was on our side that day. We rented the camera from Digital Transitions in NYC and they were amazing in teaching us how to operate it. They also assured us they would always be around should something arise on site. That comforted us to say the least.
Sunset was around 5:15, so we arrived at 4 and made our way up the construction site to the 15th floor. It was already so beautiful as the sun was setting behind the Manhattan skyline. Quickly, we were able to eliminate the rail system we had brought. Our photo subject was so far away that we could easily photograph the needed panels using our Arca-Swiss D4 tripod head. Next, we decided that the Schneider 150mm was the lens to use. It gave us exactly the frame we were hoping to get with minimal cropping needed in post. We elected to orient the camera vertically and shoot 7 panels from left to right.
One additional element we worried over was the fear that the construction site would be too active. Any camera shake would cause our long exposure capture to be blurry. Luckily we were able to select a floor where no construction workers were working and thus were free to begin.
Once the camera was set up, we ran a test by tethering to a computer and taking a look at how the panels stacked up next to each other. The raw files looked really good. We were zooming in and able to read traffic signs that were miles away!
Finally, we were confident that we would be able to create the image the way we wanted to. Now we just had to wait for the buildings to light up during twilight…
The next day we imported all the files to our office computers and spent the rest of the day editing the shot. It literally took all day to stitch the panels seamlessly, get the color correction on point, and pull out all the details we wanted to showcase. Each shot was a 15 second exposure, and since the sky gets dark so quickly there was a noticeable gradient in color with each panel. Smoothing out the sky was quite a challenge!
We finally submitted the panoramic photo and shortly after heard from the printer that the file was going to work. We all breathed a sigh of relief.
Donna and I got to see the photo in person a week later, and it was incredible. Inspecting the wall up close we really got to see how sharp every detail was. Considering this was our first time using a medium format system, and considering all the external pressures to get the job done right, I feel like we really succeeded in what we set out to do.
Reflecting on the experience, the whole process was pretty wild. There were so many question marks in the air, but it all worked out in the end. We created an amazing final product and made an important client very happy.
The Rebirth of Underoath
A few years ago, the band Underoath played what was then to be their final tour ever as a band. They did their farewell tour, made a documentary about the whole thing, and then each of the members moved on to the next phase in their lives, but they all remained friends after this.
Fast forward to late last year, and they’re all on a group text joking about what it would be like to tour again. Then the joking turned serious and, after much discussion and figuring out logistics, they decided to reunite to tour once again and play their two most popular albums, They’re Only Chasing Safety and Define The Great Line, back to back on the Underoath Rebirth Tour.
The first official show of the tour is tonight in St. Petersburg, Florida at Jannus Live, the same venue where they played the final show of their last tour. And the band has allowed me to document some behind the scenes images of the events leading up to this show.
Last week, they invited me to come out to their practice space and document one of their final practices before taking the stage once again. The space is a storage unit, lit solely by one fluorescent light inside, and some typical parking lot lights outside. Thankfully, I had two Canon 1DX bodies at my side, coupled with the 70-200mm f/2.8 and 16-35mm f/2.8 lenses, to handle the high ISO situation.
As the band practiced, I tried to cover them from every angle I could think of while staying out of their way as best as possible. During this time, they’re focused on making sure they remember how to play the songs and are all on the same page with everything rather than performing. So while they’re into it, it’s definitely a lower energy situation than a live performance.
For post processing, I prefer converting behind the scenes/documentary images to black and white. I just think it gives them a more timeless feel, and helps differentiate the images from my live concert work. In this particular case, I used Macphun’s Tonality Pro plug-in to do the black and white conversions. I started with the software’s Bold Contrast preset, then tweaked it to best fit these images and created my own preset. Once I had that in place, I did a batch process of the images and ran my preset at 50% so the images didn’t look over-processed. This gave the shots a nice but gritty look that almost made them feel like they were shot on film.
While many of the band’s shows on the tour are already sold out, including their first show tonight at an approximately 2,000-person capacity venue, they announced a “secret show” at a 400-person capacity venue in Tampa on Sunday night. This show was $10 at the door on a first come, first serve basis; and once it was full, it was full.
The venues they normally play at have big stages and a barricade/photo pit between the crowd and the band. Not so at this one, as you can see in the video below:
This time I was armed with the same Canon 1DX bodies and 70-200mm f/2.8, but this time I had the 11-24mm f/4 and 24-70mm f/2.8 lenses as well. The latter two ended up being the only ones I used during Underoath’s set since it was such a small venue. I started off right in front of the stage in the crowd during the opening bands and was fine. But once Underoath took the stage, I only lasted for two songs before I escaped the flying bodies and pummeling from the fans to try to catch my breath and make my torso cease feeling pain.
My name is Amy Willard and I am a music photographer based out of New York City. I am very excited to share my story on how I got to photograph some of the top artists in music, get published, and go on tour.
Probably the biggest myth about working in the music industry is that you have to know someone in order to get in. When I was 18 years old, I moved to Washington DC to study architecture and could count the number of concerts I had attended on one hand. I hardly knew anyone, I certainly didn’t know anyone who worked in the music industry, and yet somehow I would end up spending the next 10 years photographing some of the most recognized names in music.
My career didn’t begin with befriending a local band and hopping into the back of a tour van. I guess if anything, my journey was similar to that of the kid in Almost Famous. Instead of a tape recorder, I had a camera and my synopsis would be something more like:
Small town girl, deterred from going to concerts in her youth, suddenly falls in love with live music after seeing a Fall Out Boy show at the 9:30 Club. This inspires her to be part of that world and to one day photograph bands for Rolling Stone. She reaches out to a photographer on MySpace, buys a point and shoot camera, makes a portfolio, gets her first credentialed assignment and goes on to photograph bands for years in hopes to finally get published.
Fade to black. Roll credits.
The day everything changed was when I discovered some photos online from an All-American Rejects show that I went to. The photographer, Stacy McCarthy, signed her name to the edge of the photo. I looked her up on the internet and eventually found her MySpace page. Curious about how she got to take those photos, and pretty much deciding right there that I wanted to be like her, I sent her a message.
She was kind enough to respond and encouraged me to start shooting from the crowd in order to make a portfolio. When I had enough shots, she would offer to let me shoot for her site. I picked up a FujiFilm FinePix, a pocket camera designed for low light, and tried my luck at a few shows.
I think the first lesson I ever learned from photographing live concerts was to accept defeat. Having always been the type of person who needed to succeed at everything, this was the hardest lesson and it usually came in the form of very blurry or underexposed photos.
My first few shows shot from the crowd were terrible. At the end of the night, I would have nothing to make a portfolio and I continually felt defeated. I didn’t give up, however, I kept shooting and eventually learned the second lesson in music photography: patience.
It’s important to note that when you’re photographing a concert, everything that happens is out of your control. Unlike a photoshoot, you can’t direct your subjects and you can’t position the lights to your liking. You have to work with pre-existing conditions and wait for the shot. I began paying closer attention to the elements of the show: the music’s rhythm and the lights. I learned to anticipate the next bright moment on stage and strategically time when I clicked the shutter.
My own tips came in handy when I was close to the stage for The Fray, a piano-rock band. Everything about that night was ideal: a lead singer seated at a piano was less likely to be moving about and there was way better lighting.
I stood in the crowd, anchoring my arms to my body to stabilize my camera as I snapped away. I took over 300 shots, most unusable, but enough decent ones to make my first portfolio and finally get an approval for a photo pass. This would lead to another hard lesson in music photography: overcome the unexpected.
My first credentialed show was Matt Nathanson at the 9:30 Club on October 20, 2006 that I shot with a used Nikon D70 and Nikkor 50mm f/1.8. The shorter focal length shouldn’t have been an issue since a photo pass allows you access to area between the barricade and the stage, better known as a photo pit. Unfortunately for this show, there was no barricade setup close to the stage and what was even more unexpected was that 50 frames into the headliner’s set, my camera shutter locked up. Suddenly my first crack at being a pro was over.
I had to swallow the immense feeling of pride I had just hours prior when I picked up my photopass, and figure out how to apologize to both my editor and the band’s publicist.
Although my first show did not go as planned, I pressed on. I wanted to shoot more and more shows, but my editor couldn’t keep up with my requests, so a year and half later I launched my own music blog called Barricade Buzz. At first, many artist managers and publicists declined my requests. Thankfully one approval turned into many, and suddenly I was covering shows all around D.C., Maryland and Virginia.
As I began to cover more and more artists on a regular basis, publicists and venues began approaching me to cover their shows. With my work in music photography beginning to get noticed, I developed three goals: cover festivals, get published in a physical magazine, and go on tour.
I did a lot of cold-emailing to bands, festivals, print magazines and the like. No one responded. It became clear that I needed to get my foot in the door some other way. I decided to apply for an internship with Outerloop Management, a small artist management company just outside of D.C.. While the bands they managed weren’t exactly my style, my internship created many new opportunities and helped me achieve two of my goals simultaneously.
One of the artists I worked with through my internship was a metalcore band called We Came As Romans. They were asked to play The Bamboozle Festival in New Jersey in 2010. The whole company drove up from DC to support them. I was given a laminate for the festival and allowed to photograph the band’s whole set. I also had the opportunity to shoot both from the stage and the pit. At one point, lead singer Kyle Pavone hopped off the stage and began climbing the barricade. I followed him with my camera. I hopped up on the barricade and snapped away, trying to get a decent angle for the shot. This was an experience I had dreamed of having for so long.
Months after the festival, I got an email from Alternative Press magazine. They had checked out my site and were interested in the photos of We Came As Romans, specifically my photo of Kyle in the crowd. That shot would eventually be selected to run in their August 2010 issue. I was going to be published in print!
After my first run in the magazine, work started to pick up. I was hired to photograph a few of the major music festivals like Shamrock Fest and Virgin Mobile FreeFest. With two out of three of my goals achieved in just a few short years, all I had left to do was get on tour.
In 2011, the Vans Warped Tour, one of the largest touring music festivals in the world, held an open application to be the Monster Energy Pit Reporter. While the title is a bit goofy, the job itself was everything I wanted: spend an entire summer on tour shooting videos and taking photos of bands. I filmed a video of myself rambling about all of my experience and how I wanted to be on tour. It was a real disappointment to not get selected that year, but looking back, my application video was painfully boring.
Refusing to let that year’s defeat get the best of me, I had my second chance in 2012 and came up with an idea to finally get noticed. I channeled my inner Natalie Portman (http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/natalie-raps/n12021) and put together a satirical rap video about Warped Tour. A few months later, I was packing my gear and headed to Salt Lake City to be the 2012 Vans Warped Tour as the Monster Energy Pit Reporter.
I spent 8 weeks traveling the country with over 100 bands, many of which were favorites from my youth like Yellowcard and Taking Back Sunday. It was hard work, but by far the best experience of my life. I met so many people in music and became friends with other up and coming music photographers like Adam Elmakias, Josiah Van Dien, Ashley Osborne, and Matt Vogel. I even got to meet Todd Owyoung, a music photographer whose work I had been admiring for many years.
I’ll be honest, I wish I could have stayed on tour forever. I had never felt like there was some place where I really belonged more than on the road, but unfortunately, life had other plans and priorities.
Touring through the summer, spending 12 hours in the heat daily for weeks on end took its toll on my health and I was hospitalized upon my return home. Something most people don’t know about me is that I have an auto-immune disease called lupus. While I took every precaution to stay healthy on the road, the heat and exhaustion inevitably won and I found myself facing severe health complications months later. Although being hospitalized was a setback, I refused to let it be the end of my dream of touring and working with bands.
After accepting that being on tour was too hard on my body and knowing a connection with the music world was far too important to me, I took a job in New York City at a record label called Fueled By Ramen. As part of the label, I am able to continue to work with some of my favorite bands and maintain the medical care I need.
While I am no longer hopping on tour buses across the country with my camera, I am grateful to be in a city where I still have the opportunity to photograph bands like Paramore, Panic! At The Disco, twenty one pilots through Fueled By Ramen. I hope maybe one day I can get back on the road– even if only temporarily– and that I’ll land a shot in the pages of Rolling Stone. Until then, I’ll keep shooting!
I’m standing in the middle of an airport surrounded by friends and family, filled with excitement for the arrival of one man. As he turns the corner, everyone starts clapping, cheering and cameras flashing. He’s dressed in his full United States Army uniform and has a smile on his face that I will never forget. Running to his side are his wife, Heather, and their children, Luke and Nevaeh. His parents, Donna and Tim, follow. Sgt. Ryan Dickinson is finally home.
There is another group of people standing alongside Ryan’s friends and family that I’ve never seen before. Most of them appear to be bikers, wearing leather vests and jackets adorned with patches. They have formed two long lines down the middle of the airport lobby that extends to the exit doors. Each of them is holding an American flag that they raised when Ryan entered. The men and women in the flag lines stand strong and salute as he triumphantly walks through. It’s a sight I had the honor to witness and photograph.
None of these men and women knew Ryan personally. They are just there to commend a soldier and give him a hero’s welcome home. These remarkable people are The Patriot Guard Riders and they honor the men and women fighting for our country.
Almost 5 years later, on September 1, 2013, another American soldier killed Ryan at Fort Hood in Texas. It was devastating. The Patriot Guard Riders were called on once again to honor Ryan, this time in a different way. A group of them were at the airport when the casket arrived and escorted it to the funeral home. On the day of the wake, The Riders stood outside of the funeral home and saluted every person that entered. Even in the background, they had a strong presence throughout the day.
As the bugle played Taps in the distance, my friends and family were in tears. The Patriot Guard Riders had surrounded us, standing proud with their flags flying in the wind against the blue sky. I thought to myself “these people don’t know Ryan yet they’re all standing here with us.” From that moment on, I wanted to give them the recognition that they deserve by showing the world their stories through strong portraits.
Five months had passed since the funeral and I was ready to begin production on my portrait project. There was a lot to figure out to make this successful, including logistics of where to photograph everyone, how to get as many PGR interested, scheduling and all other details that are involved in shooting such a large group. I was very fortunate to have L.W. Murphy, one of the Riders and a former military photographer, lend me his help during the process.
With his connections, I was able to meet with many of the PGR at a motorcycle club on Long Island to introduce the project and myself. I knew that I had to explain my true intentions and to build a trust with them and not to make the project come off as exploiting or disrespectful. After many conversations, networking and buzz, I was able to schedule 60 people to photograph. L.W. was able to secure a location for the photo shoots at the Jacob’s Light Foundation building, a charity that sent care packages to soldiers.
To create an iconic and respectful portrait, I used two 69” Elinchrom octabanks to camera right as a key light to create a soft, yet slightly dramatic lighting. The portraits were shot with a Phase One 645DF body and P40+ 40MP digital back. That was my go to camera at the time (I’ve since upgraded to a Phase One XF body and IQ350 back). The portraits were converted to black and white in Capture One and touched up in Photoshop to enhance contrast and remove blemishes.
I wanted to capture moments and show who these people are rather than worry about the technical details. Many of The Riders are veterans and wanted to pay respect to other military soldiers and their families. Others have children who are currently serving or have died in action. Some are simply American patriots and want to show their appreciation for our military.
People got very emotional telling their stories. One veteran had brought his father’s medals and the flag that was presented to him at his father’s funeral. He told me stories about his dad and began to tear up a bit. The PGR at his dad’s funeral left such an impact, he joined himself for that reason.
Conversations aren’t always necessary to bring out a strong portrait. I requested that everyone bring something(s) that show who they are and why they are a PGR member. Some brought the flags that they received at a funeral or military tags, and a few wore their old uniforms, including a 90-year-old Marine veteran.
Ryan’s son, Luke, wore his dad’s hat for his portrait. Heather, Ryan’s wife, wore his jacket while holding the flag she received for him. Donna, Ryan’s mother, wore a U.S. Army sweatshirt and held tightly on to the flag she received. As difficult as it was to see Ryan’s family getting emotional and wearing his uniform, it also made me feel so proud that I was able to give something back.
Since the end of the project working with the Long Island and New York City branches of The Patriot Guard Riders, the project has gained national attention, as I hoped for. The series won a 2015 PDN Faces award in the personal work category and was also featured in the November 2015 issue of Reader’s Digest, which has over 3 million subscribers and an overall audience of almost 19 million. Although many of you may not have heard of the Patriot Guard Riders before reading this post, now you are aware of these extraordinary, selfless people and what they stand for. Thank you Scott and Brad for allowing me to share this story.
Hey guys, the release of my upcoming Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite Basics class is right around the corner and I’m getting excited! I can’t wait to share with you how easy this speedlite system is to use and how truly amazing it is. It’s a game changer in so many ways and I’ll cover them all. I’ll walk you through the buttons, dials, menus; teach you how to set up wireless communication between the camera and off camera speedlites; work with ETTL and manual; set up groups; share my must-have tips and techniques and sure fire lighting patterns; explain why you need artificial light in your bag of tricks; teach you how to use and understand high speed sync; give you a live studio shooting demo, and so much more! With any luck you’ll leave this class as amped as I am about light and shadow and chomping at the bit go out and put everything you’ve learned into practice.
If you’re like me, you may have found handheld flash intimidating at one point or another. Maybe you decided right then and there to leave well enough alone, put the flash down, and call yourself an “available light shooter.” Maybe you even have a speedlite or two sitting on your shelf collecting dust or languishing unused in your camera bag. Well guess what kids, your speedlites are “available lights.” In this new class I’ll strip away the fear and mystique surrounding these powerful tools, and flash in general, and give you the simple, straightforward info you need to get up and running with your new speedlites.
I’ll show you why the Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite and its companion ST-E3 controller represent a quantum leap forward in handheld flash technology. They have easy to use interfaces, easy to understand menus, and a first of its kind built-in radio based communication system. Simply said they just work! And there’s more good news, the 600EX-RT Speedlite and ST-E3 controller both share the same interface, so once you’ve learned one, you’ve essentially learned the other. Thank you Canon, we love that!!
It’s not just speedlites that can strike fear into the hearts of the burliest of men, but flash in general can have this effect too. So I’ll simplify that too! In a “teach a man to fish” approach, I’ll show you how to think about light and understand the why, when and how behind the choices you have available to you. Together we’ll look at the 4 key components that make up flash: quantity of light, quality of light, direction of light and distance of light. It doesn’t get more complicated that I promise, and after this class you’ll understand why. So come along with me on this journey of light and technology, things will never be the same!
I’ve included a selection of images I created with the Canon 600EX-RT system below to whet your appetite. I want to get you as excited as I am about this incredible system. In the captions for each image I’ve described the techniques I used, how they were lit, and why the 600EX-RT system was the perfect solution. See you guys in class!
First let’s start my two favorite, no fail, location lighting patterns, Cross Light and Wedge Light! These two lighting patterns are quick, easy, work every time, and form a solid foundation to build upon with additional techniques and light modifiers.
Cross Light is a simple but very effective lighting pattern that quickly adds a polished, sculptural, dimensional quality to your subjects. It’s created by aiming two speedlites at each other along the same axis and placing your subject between them. By doing this you’re creating a key light on one side and an accent light on the other. This arrangement can then be rotated around your subject so you can light them using either Broad Light or Short Light. Your bases are covered with this one simple pattern. You’ll see Cross Light used a lot in the images below, give it a try!
Here’s Cross Light in action! I’ve hidden one speedlite behind the gritty column camera left. This is my accent light. It’s been fitted with a half cut of CTO gel to create a warm tone and replicate the look of setting afternoon sun on my model’s hair. Like my key light placed camera right, both flash heads were vertically oriented and manually zoomed to 200mm. Doing this creates tight vertical beams of light that not only provide a natural looking in-camera fall-off of light but also more closely match the vertical shape of the body.
More fun with Cross Light. Here the key light is placed camera left and the accent light is over the model’s right shoulder providing a punchy highlight on her hair and shoulder. Bare speedlites, vertically oriented and zoomed to 200mm do the trick here delivering dramatic, specular light. I’ve underexposed the ambient by 2 stops using my shutter speed to get that killer blue sky! I explain this in detail in my class.
Just as I used my shutter speed in the image above to create one effect, in this image I’ve used it in another way to create a completely different look. Dragging the shutter (using a very slow shutter speed) along with a high ISO and Cross Light allow me to balance the beautiful shimmering lights of Chicago’s evening skyline and the strobe illuminating my model. The key light here is modified with a Chimera collapsible beauty dish and the accent light is bare flash with a 1/2 cut of CTO gel to warm things up a bit.
Next up is something I like to call Wedge Light. This is another super flexible and easy to use location lighting pattern. It gets its name due to the pie slice shape in which the key and accent lights are placed. Like Cross Light, this pattern can be rotated around your subject, in this case to introduce more or less shadow. The distance between each light can also be widened or shortened to create different effects.
Here you can see the results of Wedge Light positioned to the side, exactly like the diagram above, to create directional, shadowed, dramatic light. Both speedlites are bare bulb delivering a punchy, specular quality of light with rapid transitions between shadows and highlights.
In this image I’ve taken the same Wedge Light pattern used in the image above and positioned it in front of my model to create an even, almost shadowless lighting effect. Each speedlite is modified with a 24×24” Lastolite EzyBox Softbox and the harsh light from the midday sun overhead is being diffused with an 8×8’ scrim.
Wedge Light is also great for 2 people! Here I’ve got both speedlites camera left in a in pie slice arrangement, each inside a 24” Lastoilte Ezybox Softbox aimed toward each subject. I’ve also got an 8×8’ scrim overhead to diffuse the harsh sun above.
Now let’s talk about why you need speedlites with built-in wireless radio communication! The next two images demonstrate perfectly why the Canon 600EX-RT/ST-E3’s built-in radio communication is such a game changer. Optical based systems require something called “line of sight.” Meaning both the speedlite and controller need a clear visual path to see one another in order to communicate. When it comes to placing speedlites behind walls and inside soft boxes this line of sight is broken and communication is lost. Not so with radio based systems. Obstacles are no problem and the line of sight requirement is gone! Optical systems are also prone to problems in bright sunlight. In other words, radio rules.
This image like the others was made using the 600EX-RT and ST-E3’s wireless radio based communication system. It’s a perfect example of radio’s superiority over optically based systems. Note the position of the accent lights in this Cross Light setup… It’s behind a wall camera right. There’s no line of sight between the controller on my camera and the speedlite behind the wall, if I were using an optical trigger system there would be no way to trigger the flash. Plus not only can I trigger hidden lights but I have full control over their power and exposure modes. This is all huge!
Here’s another practical example of the many ways radio based communication makes things much easier. Here I’ve got a speedlite inside a soft box placed camera right. Again the controller and speedlite have no line of site, so optical is out of the question. Additionally the speedlite is inside the softbox, meaning that without radio communication, every time I wanted to make a power adjustment I’d need to open the softbox and dig inside to get to the speedlite’s controls. Trust me, that gets to be no fun real quick! Again, radio rules.
Last but not least I’d like to talk about direction, direction of light! I’ll cover all of this in class, but I want to encourage you to start thinking about directionality. The more direction or angle at which you have your light in relationship to your subject, the more shadow you’ll introduce. For me shadow equals drama and mood; I’m a big fan. Think about it… At its essence photography is nothing more than highlights and shadows, so embrace them! Shadows can be infinitely controlled, using distance, source size, and the modifier used to control the speed of the transition from highlight to shadow.
Placing my lights to the side of my model introduces shadow and drama. Think about how different this image would be if it were produced using flash on camera! Did somebody say flat? If you did you’d be right on target! Throw some direction into your lighting, you’ll be glad you did.
There’s nothing like a little side light when it comes to creating mood and drama. Here I’m using Cross Light Light again. My key light is a bare speedlite, camera left, and my accent light is another speedlite placed outside the widow camera right.
Clearly I’m passionate about light and I can’t wait to share what’s possible with Canon’s 600EX-RT and ST-E3 speedlite system! Hopefully the images above have stoked your creative fires and gotten you ready to dust off your speedlites and explore new ways to create with light. My class will be live tomorrow, I hope you’ll join me. Together we’ll get you all dialed in and up and running!