A Photo Boooooth

By Mark

Well my wife decided that we needed to have a Halloween party. As always, she was right. Every square inch of the house was decorated in a creepy, spooky, Halloween fashion.

One of the ideas we came up with was to set up a photo booth to try and capture the cool costumes of our guests.

I made the suggestion to get a Halloween backdrop and, surprisingly enough; she agreed.

There are lots of sources for backdrops on the internet. I just went through Amazon (shameless plug you should use the link on our blog) to find one we both liked. Of course, that one was sold out and I had to go with our second choice. 

I have long been looking at getting a backdrop support system because it provides a lot of flexibility for more creative photo shoots.

These backdrops fit on standardized sets of stands and a cross bar which set up quickly and can be done by only one person.

I do not have continuous lights so I knew I would need to set up the flashes. Most importantly I wanted to be sure there were no harsh shadows on the background so I used a second light first to wash the backdrop.  I have a set of pocket wizard remote transceivers which fit onto the flash units and onto the camera. You can control the power level of the flashes remotely and independently. I set up the camera on a tripod and focused the lens in manual mode so that the autofocus wouldn’t continually try to readjust. I put tape on the floor to show people where to stand and that assured they would be in focus for the photos. 

I knew that I did not need a lot of light on the backdrop, so I had the power level set at -2 stops as a starting point. I shot a few test shots to see how this worked. Here is a diagram of how the camera and the lights were set up.  I discovered that -2 was too dark so I kept adjusting it and shooting it and would up at -1 1/3 stops. 

Now I could move on to the main light. I used my large 5 ft octagonal soft box to create very soft light on the subjects. I positioned the light off to the side and as high up as possible to make the shadows interesting.  I used my volunteer model, Sarah, to test my lighting. When I was happy with it, I then proceeded to set up the remote control.

I purchased a more capable Vello remote for the camera at Photoshop World. It allows you to select the time delay for your self-portraits. I calculated that 10 seconds would give folks enough time to press the button and then get into position. Finally, I knew that people would like to see their pictures in case they needed to take additional ones that they liked better.

I set up my laptop with Lightroom open and hooked up the tethering capability directly from the camera to the screen. When you pressed the shutter the images were directly transferred into a LR collection and they were visible with the normal development presets already applied. One of the things I learned was that on Nikon cameras, when you are shooting in tethered mode, it does not also write the images to the memory card simultaneously. You need to insure the system is working properly or you will lose your images.

As it turned out, I ended up shooting the pictures myself, and not making the guests follow the simple and clear instructions I had taped to the computer stand. It was just more fun watching the people and interacting with them to get more relaxed poses. 

Each group had a crowd of spectators cheering them on. Toward the end of the evening, some of our guests wanted to take group shots. They were a lot of fun, but because of the dimensions of the space I cut off an elbow or two on the edges of the frame or had part of our basement in the shots. 

Additionally, I should have increased the depth of field because some of the people who moved into the far foreground became a little bit soft in focus. It provided a good learning opportunity for me, and people seemed to really enjoy their photos. We are already looking for a backdrop for the annual Christmas bash in December. 

Use Your Flash

By Roger (8 January 2015)

I'm a big fan of continuous lighting, as a bright flash can disrupt pretty much any event. In addition, when I'm photographing small children, they can lose all their spontaneity when you fire a flash. That's the last thing I want for my little subjects.

There are times, however, where flash is the best solution. If you're traveling, you may not want to carry all the gear that comes with continuous lighting. At weddings, you need to be able to move around during the ceremony and reception. Even outdoors, you'll sometimes want just a little pop of light to improve your shot.

While flash is often a tool that new photographers shy away from, it really isn't any more complicated than any other part of photography. It just requires practice and experimentation until you have a good grasp on how your flashes work and how to best incorporate them into your workflow. And you have the ability to check your LCD to be confident that your exposure solution is a good one. Here are some examples and hints to help you get there more quickly.

The first thing I always do is remove the flash from the camera. If your camera has a little pop-up flash, you should buy a separate unit; that little flash will give you poor results almost every time. Everyone has seen red eyes in photos. This is caused by a flash, directly in line with your lens, reflecting the retina back into your sensor. Yes, you can fix it in post-processing, but why give yourself extra work?

Get that flash off the camera! A simple sync chord (from $12-25) and an inexpensive flash unit ($70-$150) will be fine. The light from a cheap flash is not less useful than the light from an expensive flash. Your camera brand's dedicated flash unit is ideal, but will cost you more.

Use the flash controls to prevent a harsh blast of light.

Use the flash controls to prevent a harsh blast of light.

My camera has enough ISO sensitivity to shoot the photo, above,  without flash. The flash allowed me to bypass any worry about noise and keep the shutter speed high enough (1/125) that there wouldn't be any motion blur. If you look closely, you'll see the background is darker than the subject. Not by much, but enough to guide the viewer's eyes directly to the subject. Light brings things forward; shadows move them back. You can accomplish this by taking an exposure reading on the background, and, then, dialing down your exposure by a stop or two. The flash will fill in the light on your subject. I always begin with my flash power dialed down, so I don't blast a full load of light into the subject. When you've practiced this, you can develop a quick starting point.

Watch out for distracting reflections

Watch out for distracting reflections

Aside from dialing down the flash power, you always want to pay attention to the direction of the light as it hits your subject. Reflections and lens flares can add interest to some portraits, but they shouldn't be there if they distract. A subject with glasses rarely wants to have them used for your artistic reflections. The best way to keep their spectacles free of these distractions is to ensure that the reflection bounces away from your camera lens. I held the flash on camera-left and bounced the flash, angled, on a nearby wall.

Only use flash when allowed at weddings

Only use flash when allowed at weddings

At weddings – always check to see if the celebrant allows flash during the ceremony; many don't – I keep the flashes to the minimum. There are times, though, where the flash can help you catch a nice moment.

I hope you have noticed that these photos do not show a highly-lit subject, with the jet black background, you see in many flash shots. Exposing for the background, instead of relying solely on the mighty power of your flash, is the way to make for a more evenly lit photograph.

At the reception, you have to move around the crowd, gathering photos of the couple and happy guests. You may be able to set up a light kit in the corner, and guide people into your set-up. I prefer to make more candid photos, with a flash. I want to catch them while they're partying, not drag them away from the party to some stuffy corner. You're not making art here, you're recording the event. I was lucky to have a white ceiling in this hall. The flash is diffused in a translucent modifier and bounced straight up.

Everyone's happy at the reception

Everyone's happy at the reception

Finally, use your flash outdoors to add a pop of light to highlight your subject. One of the easy tricks photographers will use in bright daylight is to take the subject into open shade. This can lead to some flat and boring lighting. In addition, since your camera's computer will call for more light-gathering, you get hot spots wherever the natural light comes into the photo. Again, if you expose for the background (can you hear me pounding the table on this one?), you won't have that problem. Don't do what everyone else does; instead, break out your flash. Your photos will look much better without those burned out highlights.

Use your flash in the daytime, too

Use your flash in the daytime, too

All of these photos were taken with one flash, attached to the camera with a sync chord. It's a very inexpensive set-up. It allows me to move with the action, but still ensures enough light to properly expose the scene.

The year is still new enough to slip in an extra photography resolution. Learn to use your flash. Stop letting your batteries die from disuse in your flash – they want to be used to make your photographs better. Practice, practice, practice, until you have as much fun with your flash as the rest of your gear.

Light from window, camera right, enhanced with flash

Light from window, camera right, enhanced with flash

Improvised Light Modifiers

By Mark

I was shooting some portraits today at the office for a proposal and had found a nice corner with good soft light.  I set up my Wescott softbox with my SB900 flash as my main light.  I had a second flash set up on the floor to provide an even background light.  This was especially critical as the EXIT sign was throwing a nice red line against the wall.  Since I was using my pocket wizard remotes to control the set up, it was pretty easy to adjust the flash ratio between the two.  From my preliminary test shots, I had set the background light power way down at -2 stops.  The main flash was set at +1/3 and the first sets of pictures were fine.  As the afternoon progressed, it got cloudier and darker and I started getting bad shadows on the far side of my subjects. 

Elesia, my saintly and patient receptionist

Elesia, my saintly and patient receptionist

Even though I had my light stands and full lens bag with me, I had neglected to bring a reflector.  That would have solved my problem instantly.  I was forced to actually think…gasp, on how I could solve my challenge.   We have been printing large fold outs and so I grabbed 2 11 x 17 pieces of bright white paper and taped them together and then to the blinds.  Voila! 


The paper gave a great bounce of light from the main flash and the far side of my victim; I mean subjects face caught the light again.  Because of the darkening skies, I also had bumped the main light up to +2/3.  I tried a little more and it was too much. A tiny bit of retouching and a nice finished product. 


There are often useful things just hanging around which can both block light when it is falling where it should not.  I always have small clamps, a little bigger and stronger than chip clips to hold up a folder to shape the light.  A 3x5 card and a rubber band around the head of your flash actually can establish a nice catch light for your model.   It is always better to have the right equipment handy, but that is not excuse for not getting the shot when you have imagination.  

Avoiding the Blinding Obviousness of the Flash

A couple of blogs ago, I wrote about the common problem of red-eye and how to avoid it.  The bottom line was, don’t use the on-camera flash if you can help it.  I looked through the photos I shot this year with flash and realized that while I got some decent portraits- it was as much by luck as it was by skill.


  It made me acknowledge that I really have only a basic set of skills with my remote lighting tools.  So 2013, assuming we survive Friday’s Mayan apocalypse, will be the year that I really learn off camera lighting.  There are two main sources I plan to rely on to accomplish this task—Kelby Training and the magic of Joe McNally, which we have plugged before and a Website/blog/cult called “STROBIST® . http://strobist.blogspot.com/2006/02/welcome-to-strobist.html


David Hobby who runs the organization is fairly local—he lives up in Baltimore.  He lives, breathes, writes and shoots lighting.  He has created a self-help course entitled  “Lighting 101, which goes from the very basics of flash terminology to a series of more complex assignments.  Bes of all, the entire content is free.  I’m going to work my way through it, over the next few months and hopefully, will be able to get results like this all the time, instead of, “Oh wow, I shot that?  Joe McNally says “Light is the language of photography, we must learn to see it and shape it”.