Flash of Insight

When children learn a new grammar rule, they often start over applying it.  They get that adding “s” makes things plural, so they add “s” to everything.  They learn the exceptions later.  I’ve had the realization that I have learned what the depth of field will be like at a few aperture settings and started applying those settings all the time.

Now, the trick is to step things up a notch and start paying closer attention to the exact results I get in each circumstance.

In the meantime, I had a moment of weakness.  Upon spotting a very good price on some used studio lighting, I decided it was time to figure out how to start taking control of the lighting in my living room.

Today I take on two lessons simultaneously.  First, control depth of field.  Second, control lighting.  I start by using Pat as a reluctant model, but he bails and I turn to Tisen.

As it turns out, the enormous soft box and umbrella of light flashing at him are enough to motivate Tisen to go nap elsewhere.  I am stuck with only Tisen’s toys to shoot.

In reviewing the shots I’ve selected, here are the lessons I took from each (so far):

  1. Over exposure is easy when using giant studio flashes.  I actually really like this picture however.  This is a barely retouched photo–the drawing effect is purely from the overexposure.

2.  The second shot is what happens when you are using two monolights and you forget to turn one on.  I actually like this shot, too, though.  I am beginning to think I do my best work by accident.

3.  A grouping of Tisen’s toys are a great tool for depth of field practice.  In this shot, at f/4.5 (another thing I learned–I apparently have 1/3 stops enabled on my camera), I got a relatively shallow depth of field.  Shallow enough that I was able to tell that Red Dog and Mr. Beaver were not sharp from my camera’s LCD.

4.  Same group shot at f/10, the depth of field is significantly better than the last shot, although Red Dog still does not look sharp.  I am beginning to suspect that it’s difficult to get fake red fur to look sharp.  I also added a fill light to reduce shadows.

5.  I switched Lamb and Mr. Beaver, who always looks like he’s in a shadow.  The depth of field was the same as the previous shot.

6.  Here, Tisen demonstrates both a shallow depth of field (paw in foreground out of focus) and what happens when your subject decides to pop up and take a nap with his head propped against your soft box.

7.  Repeating the previous shot with greater depth of field, now the paw is in focus and so is his face (I think?).

8. Finally, I thought it would be nice to see the setup (plus Tisen).  There is also a light behind the umbrella.  Given that this is all new to me, I was pretty happy with the lighting results.

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6 responses to “Flash of Insight

  1. uh-oh, you HAVE been bitten by the bug. Welcome to one of the most expensive hobbies on the planet. It looks like you got some really good equipment. Your next learning assignment (should you chose to take it), is to visit strobist.com and start looking at the lessons about off camera lighting there. David Hobby, the guy who started the strobist movement, has been updating that blog for a long time. He mostly talks about using small strobes that normally are attached to the hot shoe on your camera, but, the same approach applies to studio lighting. Another resource that will help is a book called “Light Science and Magic” It teaches about how to set up studio lights and light your subjects. You can also practice with the power settings on your lights. For example, in the shot where you forgot to turn on the second moonlight, you could have powered down the light camera left and provided just a little fill there to open us the really dark shadow and provide a little definition.
    From your test shots, you got the 1:1 lighting down pat. Now, try keeping the soft box light at its current setting and play around with the power on the other light.

    Enjoy!

    • My husband and I did a comparison of our hobby costs. In 2003, he bought a 1990 3-series BMW that he since had lowered and added a sport suspension, put in a performance computer chip, added performance wheels and tires, had the transmission swapped from an automatic to a 5-speed, and had it painted. This is in addition to some rather pricey maintenance. In 2008, I bought my first DSLR and two lens. With that and the addition of two L lenses, tripod, software, computer upgrades, filters, CF cards, workshops, and miscellaneous equipment, I’ve spent 28% more than he has in 5 fewer years, and that includes the original purchase price of his car! This may be why I have been avoiding learning about flash and studio lighting like the plague!

      Thanks for the site–I will definitely check that out. I am volunteering to shoot portraits of people with a one-winged, hang gliding bald eagle next weekend to raise money for Save Our American Raptors (S.O.A.R.). I hope David has some articles on using strobes with Bald Eagles!

      You know, in my test shots, I forgot to mention how much I chuckled when I noticed the catch light in Mr. Beaver’s eye!

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