Don’t let the title on the video throw you off (someone in our Web dept. gave it that name since I’m using a Westcott FJ-400 in the shoot, but it’s not about Westcott gear – This works for any strobe, flash, etc. with a softbox. Check it out (above) – it’s a pretty quick and easy tip but it really gets results.
Thanks, everybody, and here’s wishing you an NFL Playoff win (unless you’re a Rams fan). #GoBucs!
We are very excited to announce a new two-day, two-training-track, all online conference November 2, 2021 with an incredible team of instructors and it’s all to help you create your best portraits yet. We just announced the conference and hundreds of photographers have already signed up, and you can can too (it’s open to everyone), and if you sign up now, you’ll save a ton with our Early Bird special ticking pricing.
Best of all – the entire conference is archived for a full year so you can catch any sessions you missed or rewatch any sessions, any time – all streamed on demand for a year That is sweet! :)
Welcome to my glorious and sheepishly anticipated “15th Annual Gonzo Holiday Gear Guide.” It’s an annual tradition here in the mag, where I share gift ideas for photographers based on the stuff I spent too much money on throughout the year. Being stuck inside with the pandemic and all, sadly hasn’t curtailed the amount I spent this year (perhaps, just the opposite), but nevertheless, I’ve got some great gift ideas in three different categories:
Stocking Stuffers:These are the perfect gifts for people you don’t really care that much about, but it would be awkward if you didn’t get them anything.
Great Value Gear: These are gifts that fall into that sweet spot of looking like they cost a lot, but they’re actually pretty inexpensive, so you look like a champ, but in reality…well, you can fill in your own blanks here. Good stuff, cheap. Well, cheapish.
Cha-ching!:These are my picks for gifts you’d buy the photographer on your gift list who’s a personal injury attorney, anesthesiologist, or perhaps a cloud engineer (nobody actually knows what a cloud engineer does, but it has to pay a lot because it has “cloud” in the name and the future is all about the cloud). Before buying any of these items, the process will go faster if the bank has pre-approved you for a specific loan amount.
Just remember, giving one of these gifts by itself isn’t enough. The real magic of the holidays is when you can use social media to make others feel less adequate by taking smartphone pictures of all the stuff you bought, and all the stuff you got, and sharing it online. It’s what separates us from the animals. So, without further ado, I present to you my “15th Annual Gonzo Holiday Gear Guide” and late night bag o’ chips snacking companion.
Uncommon Grit: A Photographic Journey through Navy SEAL Training by D. McBurnett
If the photographer on your gift list enjoys a good coffee table book, this one is pretty brilliant. It has fantastic images of Navy SEAL training operations taken by a retired former Navy SEAL and it’s really stunning (the imagery and the testament of what it takes to become a SEAL). Really nicely done, and they’ll love it (and you).
This has become my favorite software for backing up my computer, and since photographers are notoriously bad at backing up their computers (they must be, because people email me all the time with heartbreaking stories about how they’ve lost their photos forever when their computer died or was stolen), this will make it so easy. It literally reminds you to plug in your drive and back up on a schedule, and all you have to do is plug in that drive—Carbon Copy Cloner does the rest. This is a very pragmatic gift, so while it’s not flashy, and they won’t necessarily be gushing when you give it, they’ll thank you again and again all year long. At the very least, they’ll think of you in a semi-positive light.
Price: Personal & Household license: $39.99 (link)
Hard Drive for Backing Up Photos
This one is particularly nice, because it really seems like you spent a lot, but the prices for storage have come down so much that it’s shockingly low. You can get a WD 2-TB external hard drive for around $65, which is just insanely cheap. Get them at least a 2-TB drive, and if you’re romantically tied to this person, maybe even go for 4 TB for around $100.
Okay, this is a plug for my own book, but it’s one I’m really proud of because I’ve heard from so many photographers who have told me that this is the book that turned them into a photographer. It’s the major new update to the #1-bestselling book in history on digital photography, and it’s been seven years in the making. I’m sharing all my latest techniques, tips, and tricks on how to make better photos, right away, today! It’s not a book on theory that challenges them to figure things out on their own; it’s the exact tools, settings, and techniques that will make a difference immediately in their photography. It’s available in print and eBook editions.
Most photographers hate cutting gels for their flash, and storing them for future use is even worse, which is why they’ll love these precut, super-easy-to-use, and clearly marked gels for hot-shoe flash. They’re very cleverly designed to make putting gels on their flash quick and easy, and the gels come in their own storage wallet with a tabbed organizer to make finding the right gel easy. Super-cool gift for the flash user on your list.
If they shoot with an iPhone, I think this is the best darn little tripod out there. It’s so light, yet so handy. Make sure you get the one that fits their model of phone. This is the perfect stocking stuffer for the iPhone photographer on your list.
This is always the perfect gift because B&H Photo is the greatest camera store in the world, and whatever the photographer on your gift list wants, B&H has it, in stock, ready to ship. They’re the magical unicorn of camera stores. Get them a gift card from here, and they’ll follow you anywhere.
Dogtography: A Knock-Your-Socks-Off Guide to Capturing the Best Dog Photos on Earth
This brand-spanking new book from the undisputed queen of dog photography, Kaylee Greer, is an absolute gem and, if the photographer on your gift list has a doggo, they’ll get so much out of this wonderful book. Kaylee is magic when it comes to photographing pooches (she even had her own TV series on Nat Geo Wild called Pupparazzi), and she shares all her secrets to getting the best doggie photos you’ve ever taken. Well, the person on your gift list will be so happy to get this book, and if you buy a copy for yourself, you’ll be happy too. Totally worth it.
Even if they have a spare battery, every photographer would still love another one (or two). It’s one of those can’t-go-wrong stocking stuffers. Today you can get a pack of two spare batteries along with a charger for around $30. Note: If you buy a battery from the camera manufacturer (such as Canon or Nikon), the prices are so much higher (like $60–70 a battery) that it will probably move you out of the stocking-stuffer range. I haven’t noticed a difference in quality or battery life whatsoever with these off-brand batteries, so save the money and buy them two of these instead of one of the name brands. They’ll love this!
Price: For Canons using LP-E6 style batteries: $29.99 (link) For Nikon Mirrorless cameras using EN-EL15b style batteries: $19.95 (link)
2-Pack of Lexar Professional 633x UHS-I SDHC 32GB Memory Cards
Memory cards are like batteries: photographers can never have enough of them (especially if they shoot video, too), and these fast SD cards will be so welcome by the photographer on your gift list. This is one of those things that photographers put off buying, so when you buy it for them, it’s hero time. Plus, these are so inexpensive now (around $15 for two), you can’t go wrong (and they’ll think you spent a lot more)!
This is a freakin’ amazing sharpening plug-in from the wizards at Topaz Labs. Erik Kuna, our VP of Operations and instructor here at KelbyOne, and I have both fallen in love with this plug-in. It’s way cheaper than buying a new sharp lens, but it will make their images look like they plunked down $3,000. Since it uses AI and automatically does all the analyzing and applying, all they have to do is sit back and click a button to enter a whole new world of sharp, crisp images. Really good stuff (and it will help them prepare for when robots steal all our jobs).
Breakthrough Photography X4 Neutral Density Filters
Famous photographer (and my dear friend) Rick Sammon called me one day to tell me about these filters (’cause he knows I’m a filter freak). He was raving about the quality, and man was he right. He talked me into getting a set of the X4 Neutral Density (ND) filters, and they’re as good as it gets. They’re so well-crafted, and everything Rick said they were. Breakthrough Photography makes all sorts of different filters, all designed and built here in the U.S. This is a really nice gift. The 6-stop ND filter starts at $149 (based on the size of their lens in mm), and the 10-stop (my fav) starts at $159. Make sure you find out what mm size their lens is. (This is a tricky thing to ask without giving away the present—good luck with that!)
There are a lot of great flash modifiers out there, but MagMod is their king for just how easy it is to use and switch between their different flash accessories. The secret? Magnets. You don’t attach them; they just magnetically snap into place, and they’re a joy to use. You’ll be a hero from the very first time the photographer on your list uses this system. The MagMod Starter Kit comes with the MagGrip, MagGrid, and the popular MagSphere. If they use flash, they will so love this system.
This is a long-beloved collection of special effects and production plug-ins, originally developed by Nik Software, who was acquired by Google, and then acquired by DxO (maker of PhotoLab). DxO has updated the software a bit, added a new plug-in called Perspective Efex, and just released a new set of presets. For many photographers out there, this plug-in is their secret weapon.
This is a very special gift: a gift certificate so the photographer on your list can get a 16×24″ Epic Print (which is their name for this particular printing process). Here’s how they describe it: “Epic Prints are made from prints on Fujiflex silver halide photographic paper with up to 610-dpi resolution, for high-precision clarity that’s as close to ‘perfect’ as print gets. Mounted to aluminum for a sleek, thin profile, and a flawless presentation.” Seriously, who wouldn’t lose their mind to have one of their images printed and presented like that? They just upload their file, and Bay Photo does the rest.
This is a hardware input device (nerdspeak) for super-fast editing in Lightroom and Photoshop. It replaces clicking all over the place with your mouse with an intuitive set of dials, knobs, and buttons that are just so slick and thoughtfully laid out. If you know someone who wants to speed up their Lightroom or Photoshop work, and wants to look really cool doing it, this is for them.
If you want to give them a gift they’ll literally treasure for years, get them a gift certificate from Mpix.com to have their images printed in a high-quality photo book. It’s like a coffee table book, but of their own images, and the quality (and customer service) is off the charts. They’re not cheap, but that’s only because they’re super-high quality. This is a gift they’ll love on a level you can’t imagine.
Price: $159.99 for the 8×8 book with 20 pages; $184.99 for the 10×10 with 20 pages(Note: Go for the 10×10!) (link)
Luminar AI Automated Photo-Editing Program
If they’re not a postprocessing shark, this plug-in (which uses AI to analyze and edit your image automatically for you, or with some input from you), will help take their images to the next level, without the learning curve. It’s pretty amazing what Skylum is doing with this standalone app. It’s set to be available on December 15, 2020, so it’s right around the corner.
Every photographer needs an online portfolio, but the process of getting and creating one has been either really limited, complicated, or both. SlickPic is a site designed exclusively for creating photography portfolios, and if you buy the photographer on your gift list a “Portfolio” level account, SlickPic assigns a professional designer to help them get their site up and running fast and looking great. I switched my portfolio over to SlickPic earlier this year and I’m loving it (though I didn’t need to use their designer as their templates are really easy and intuitive).
I’ve tried a lot of camera straps over the years, and this is my favorite. I learned about this strap on one of my first photo walks (about 12 years ago) and I’ve been using one ever since. The strap wraps across their body (great for safety since a thief can’t just grab it off your shoulder and take off), and their camera is right at their side ready to shoot at any time. Really can’t say enough about ’em.
Okay, I wanted to sound like a rockstar with that greatest hits title, but in reality, it’s three of my bestselling books: (1) The Landscape Photography Book (2) The Natural Light Portrait Book, and (3) The Flash Book, all bundled together at one incredible price as if it were designed from scratch from the book publishing gods to create the ultimate photography learning gift pack. If your photographer is a reader, they’ll super-dig my book bundle (thank you Rocky Nook for putting it together).
Price: All three print books together: $45 (insanely low—that’s 50% off the cover price); All three eBooks together: $35 (I should find a new publisher—that’s too low!) (link)
Tether Tools Rock Solid Tripod Roller
Nobody else will have this hidden gem on their gift guide, which is partially why it makes such an awesome gift (and one that will make their friends jealous). It’s a super portable and collapsible base onto which you put your tripod, and it becomes—wait for it, wait for it—a rolling tripod. You can’t imagine how great this is until you use one (I’ve been using one for years). It looks and acts like it costs a lot more, and they’ll be the envy of every studio photographer everywhere.
The gallery YellowKorner sells three of my fine art prints of classic interiors at various sizes (you can get some really nice large sizes) and styles; and I, for one, would be honored if you saw fit to give one as a gift. Imagine how tickled I’d be if you gave three or four? Or even three or four hundred? The mind reels, doesn’t it? Anyway, it would make a great addition to your photography collection (said the artist; so his opinion is marginally biased). If you purchase one, please post a pic on social and tag me in it, so I can share it, as well.
Hand-Painted Backdrop for Portraits from GravityBackDrops
This is the second time these have landed in my Gear Guide, but I’ve been using them a lot lately, and felt they needed to be included again. These beautifully hand-painted backdrops are turning the industry on its ear, because they’re priced so far below their competitors, yet their quality is spot-on. These are giving photographers access to a level of quality, hand-painted backdrops that were out of reach for so many people; you can now own these backdrops for less than we used to rent them for the weekend. They’ll even custom-make whatever you want. Can’t recommend these enough (and you’ll be a hero to the photographer on your gift list).
Price: Based on size, but figure around $350 or so (link)
Canon EOS R6 Mirrorless Camera
I don’t have this camera yet, but it’s the one I’m about to buy for myself for Christmas. It has the sensor of the camera I wish I could buy, the Canon EOS-1D Mark III (I have the old 1D Mark I), so the low-noise performance is insane, but it’s got all the features of Canon’s latest mirrorless line, and a price that’s actually mind-blowing for what you get. Perfect for the Canon shooter on your holiday gift list. They’ll lose their minds when you give them this!
Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 Lens for Shooting the Night Sky/Milky Way
This lens is highly recommended by the real man, can of ham, eats lots of bran, friend of Jean-Claude Van Damme, big fan of Wham, and the real rocketman, Erik Kuna, who notes that this is an absolute favorite among the astrophotography crowd (which I believe are people that take photos of George Jetson’s dog) and, well, the price is so good, it’s hard to pass up. If the photographer on your gift list likes shooting the night sky, or heavenly bodies (stop snickering), or Milky Way bars, this will totally float their boat!
Price: Nikon: $299 (link) Canon: $399 (link) Sony: $499 (don’t shoot the messenger Sony users) (link)
Westcott FJ400 Wireless Flash System
Westcott has a huge hit on their hands with this portable studio strobe. They can’t build ’em fast enough to keep up with demand, because the design is awesome, the wireless trigger is really fantastic, and the price is ridiculously cheap for what it does. You need both the strobe and the wireless transmitter, but they’re totally worth it, and the photographer on your gift list will follow you around like a puppy with unending adoration if you pick up this gift for them.
Nikon Z 6II Mirrorless Camera with FTZ Adapter Kit
A number of my Nikon-shooting friends have this camera and every one of them absolutely swears by it. If the Nikon shooting photographer on your gift list has been itching to go mirrorless, they’ll pass out and wind up in the fetal position on the floor when they open your wrapped gift, and they find this inside. They’ll have to go through a concussion protocol shortly after opening the box. True story. Get the one with the adapter so they can use their existing Nikon lenses with this new mirrorless. It really shows you care.
If the photographer on your gift list is a Sony shooter (or just wants to be), here’s a gift that will have them exploding into candy like a piñata. It’s the top-selling, most-wished-for, most-longed-for, sexiest (sexiest?) mirrorless camera with incredible specs and a legion of fans around the world. If you want to curry favor with your giftee, be the gifter that breaks the bank and gets them that once-in-a-lifetime gift. (I say that because you’ll never be able to afford things such as food, rent, and air again. You’ll be broke, but you’ll be a broke hero and that’s saying something.)
Treat Them to a Ticket to Our Online Travel Photography Conference
It’s coming up in January, so the timing is right on the money, and if they’re into taking photos when they travel, they’ll so love this two-day, two track, all-online conference with a who’s who of brilliant travel photography instructors and postprocessing wizards. Plus, they’ll have access to the archive of all the conference classes for an entire year after the fact. These are super popular, and they’ll have a great experience, laugh a lot, learn a lot, and they’ll thank you again and again. ;-)
Price: $149 for a full-access pass (early-bird) (link)
A One-Year KelbyOne Membership
If they love online training, we have a special membership level that just focuses on the online classes, giving them access to more than 300 courses, and it goes for just $9.99 a month or $96 annually. Give ’em a 12-month membership and they’ll love you all year. If you really want to bowl them over, get them a KelbyOne Pro membership; it’s got more classes (800+), more features, and an incredible worldwide community of photographers helping each other get better. It’s for accelerated learning, and they’ll have full access to everything. They’ll love you (and so will I).
Price: Plus Membership: $9.99/month; $96/annually; Pro Membership: $19.99/month; $199/annually (link)
Well, there ya have it, folks. Remember, it’s not how many gifts you get. It’s about how many gifts you get me! ;-)
You can watch this top-rated online course free this weekend: Check out the trailer below:
Best of all, the entire course is free (really free – no credit card required or any of that stuff).
Just sign up for a FREEKelbyOne Free-Level Membership and you’ll have access to not only this awesome built a home studio course from Rick Sammon, but some other courses from me as well like this one (below – that’s the trailer) that teaches Lightroom users how to use the most important stuff in Photoshop (without having to learn all of Photoshop, which is a lot ’cause…well…it’s Photoshop).
Anyway, I hope you’ll check one, both or all of the free courses out. If course, if you want to accelerate your learning, you can join our Pro Membership plan and you’ll have unlimited 24/7 access to nearly 800 online courses on photography, Lightroom and Photoshop. We’ve got a special deal running right now because so many folks are still stuck at home, and this will help you make the most of this down time.
There ya have it — hope you found those courses helpful, and here’s wishing you a safe and happy weekend. :)
In the last chapter of all my “Digital Photography Books” (Parts 1 through 5), I do a thing I call “Photo Recipes” where I show a photo and then discuss how to take a similar shot (what lighting equipment was used, camera gear and settings and on).
Today, in that vein, I’m doing a “Lighting Recipe.” When it comes to lighting, I’m one of those “less is more” guys, and my lighting set-ups tend to be mostly just one light, but someone two lights, and occasionally three. However, in this case, we’re actually going to use five lights—but don’t freak out—it’s really a three-light shoot because the other two lights are just “dumb lights” aiming at the background of white seamless paper to make it really white, so you can’t really count those, right? So think of it as a three-light shoot, using five lights. ;-)
Figure 1: Here’s our image (above). This edgy lighting look is usually used seen with your subject on a dark background, but you’re seeing it more and more on white seamless, so that’s what we’re setting up here. The key to this look is the strong highlights along both sides of our subject.
The Front Light:
Notice I didn’t call this the “Main Light” because in this instance it’s the two backlights that are the Main Lights—the front light, which in our case is a strobe with a 17″ Beauty Dish, attached (it makes the light a bit more contrasty than a softbox) is just providing fill in the front, so we keep the power for this front strobe down as low as it will go.
Figure 2: You can see from this angle that the Beauty Dish (#1) in front is positioned directly in front of our subject and tilted down at her at a 45° angle, and it’s very close to her as well, which is another reason why you keep the power of the front light almost all the day down as low as it will go.
The Main Lights
The two Main Lights are actually in the rear (they’re marked as #2 below), and they’re doing most of the work for this look. The softboxes are two of my workhorse softboxes—-they’re 1’x3′ strip banks. Both strip banks have egg crate grids in front of them (more on these grids in a moment). You position these two strip banks behind your subject, on either side, up a bit high and tilted back down — aiming at your subject at around a 45° angle.
The key to making this work:
The secret to nailing this look is to build this set-up one light at a time, starting with the strip banks and turn every other light OFF! Just turn on one (either the left or the right—doesn’t matter) and do a test shot so you can see the aiming of the light. You want it to light the sides of your subject without really spilling too much onto their face. It should be a rim light like the sun would backlight your subject. You’ll need to crank up the power on these since they’re your main lights, so I have them at three-times the power of the front beauty dish (so it’s a 3-1 power ratio).
Once you get one side in place, turn on the other side—-use the same power settings, and align the height and aim so both sides look pretty much the same (as seen in our example shown below). Once you get that all set, now you can turn on the front Beauty Dish (remember to keep its power all the way down). It will act to fill in front of her face so it’s not as dark as you see in the image above.
The Egg Crate Grids
The beam of light that comes out of a tall-thin strip bank is already more narrow than what you’d get out of a large square softbox, but to make that beam even more focused and tighter I use two Egg Crate Grids.
This image was taken using a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, at a focal length of 135mm. My ISO was 200. I shoot in the studio in Manual mode, so I can set the shutter speed at 1/125 of a second and forget it. My f/stop was f/11 (pretty typical for me in the studio), which is an ideal f/stop for situations where you want absolutely everything in focus in a portrait. I focused on the eye closest to me; held the shutter button down halfway to lock focus, and then I recomposed the image (with it still held halfway down) and took the shot.
It’s an inexpensive roll of white seamless paper. 9 foot in width, it only costs around $56 at B&H (link).
Lighting The Background
It’s just two more of the same strobes, but with no softbox attached—just metal reflector to push a lot of light back there. They’re on either side of the paper (they’re seen above marked as #3) —positioned down low and aiming up at the background.
Where to position the subject
I generally position my subject 8 to 10 feet from my background so the front lights don’t affect the background. In this case, since the background is going to be bright white anyway, it wouldn’t have mattered if the light spilled over, but the way the lights are positioned, there wouldn’t be much spillover anyway—-two of the lights are aiming back toward the camera, and one is aiming down at the floor, but as a general rule I keep the subject 10 feet from the background for spillover concerns.
There ya have it. Hope you found that helpful. :)
Come catch my seminar – coming next to these cities:
Those are my next stops for my “Ultimate Photography Crash Couse” — San Diego and Phoenix in just a couple of weeks, and then LA and Houston in March. Come out and spend the day with me — you will learn a lot (well, that’s what photographers who have come out have told me). Details and tickets here (just $99, includes a detailed workbook and some other goodies). :)
I am so excited — this is the first thing I’ve ever invented (with lots of help from my friends at Westcott) — it’s a lighting tool for educators and students, and its sole purpose is to teach people lighting before they go and buy lighting. Check out the video below to see what it’s all about (and how the idea came about).
So, now that you’ve seen the video, you know — it’s about experimenting, learning, and seeing “the light.” That way, when you do buy a flash or a studio strobe or continuous light, the frustration, the futzing, and the whole guessing game is over because you’ll have a plan — you’ll know what you’re trying to achieve, what light does, when to use hard light, diffused light, what gobos do, what fresnels do, the color differences between tungsten and daylight. You’ll know all this because the light comes with a full training class on light, and how to use The Learning Light, in your classroom, or with other students, or for just you as you’re learning.
We released a full training class on it to KelbyOne members this week, but if you buy the light, you get full access to the class as part of the lighting package.
It’s available today
The light, with the gobos and the training class, is just $89.90 and you can get it direct from the folks at Westcott (here’s the link), and B&H Photo will be carrying them any day now, too.
As an educator myself, you can probably imagine how exciting it is to have a tool like this for other educators and students, and I’m so grateful to my friends at Westcott: Eric Eggley (who came up with so many great ideas for The Learning Light, and took my initial idea and took it much farther than I’d ever hoped), and to Brandon Heiss, whose vision and commitment to helping teachers is why there is a Learning Light today at all.
I’m super-psyched! (can ya tell)? ;-)
One last thing, and it’s something I think is really important (and you’ll hear me talk about this aspect a lot). This is not lighting. It’s a learning tool. It’s the light you buy before you buy real lighting. It’s for experimenting with shadows, and light, and for learning lighting before you fully invest it in. I truly hope you’ll find it helpful (and I think you’ll find it’s a lot of fun), and thanks for taking the time to let me share this all with you (and tell your teacher friends about it, if you would). :)
Have a great weekend, everybody!
P.S. Did I mention I invented a light for educators? Whoo hoo!!! I’m super-psyched!