Thursday, February 26, 2009

Annie Leibovitz at Work

After watching a documentary on Annie Leibovitz (Life Through a Lens) on my flight from Singapore to New York some months back, I was not only inspired, but I think she is one of the best photographers today. When she released her book Annie Leibovitz at Work, I dropped by Riceball Photography Bookstore to grab it, and it was a good and easy read. It is like sitting with Annie hearing her recount the different phases of her life and the people she had met and take photographs of. It is totally non-technical, but it gets into the heart and mind of one of the greatest photographers, and how she views her role in capturing life. In fact, it goes beyond anything a technical book on photography can teach you about, and helps you see life in a new perspective, and how as a photographer, you can capture an image of that part of your life.

Right at the end of the book, there is a section where Annie talks about equipment, and it can be summed up in her words, "Digital gives a more honest view of how things actually look, and with the advent of all these possibilities, I still want the pictures to look like they're real. Whatever camera helps me do that is the camera I'm going to use. I'm not nostalgic about cameras. When I talk about how important the camera is to me, I mean the idea of the camera. What photography does. I'm not into it because of the equipment, and I'm not concerned with the things that concern more technically acute people. I want to use whatever helps me take a picture in all kinds of light with faster speed and fewer problems. I changed my 35mm digital camera four times in one year. As soon as I hear there's a better one out, I'll try it." (page 207) There is also a section entitled "Ten Most-Asked Questions" where she gives her views on them. The 10 questions are:

1. What advice do you have for a young photographer who is just starting out?
2. What is your favorite photograph?
3. Who's the most difficult person you've ever photographed?
4. How many pictures do you take?
5. Are you happy with the move from film to digital?
6. How is photographing a celebrity different from photographing a regular person?
7. Where do you get your ideas?
8. When do you know you have a good picture?
9. How much direction do you give?
10. How do you set people at ease and get them to do the things that they do in your pictures?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Softbox for Speedlights

My friend Ian was using a Westcott Apollo softbox with his Alien Bees during a recent shoot, and I must say, I like the Westcott Softbox. It is different from other softboxes I've seen in Singapore, and for this one, you don't need a speedring and you can either do it shoot through or bounce off the reflective back of the softbox.

Sad to say, I can't find them in Singapore. Ian ordered his from B&H, and after doing some searching, I like what I see with the Westcott Apollo Speedlight Set.

Julia Greer also wrote a great article on How To Use Your Nikon SB-800 Flash With Softboxes, and in it, she also mentioned the Westcott Apollos.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Where can I buy my basic strobbing gear in Singapore?

After using off-camera flash for awhile, it is sad to say that at this time, there aren't a lot of places to get the gear in Singapore, and even if there is, it is very limited in variety. For that reason, I have been looking at buying from places like B&H, Adorama or Amazon.

However, if you are just starting out, there are a few places to check out. I would strongly suggest that you do some homework and research because similar products can be sold at very different prices.

Here are some places to check out (in alphabetical order):

Cathay Photo @ Peninsular
Ruby Photo @ Peninsular
TagoTech (online orders)
The Studio Outfitters (online orders)

Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS)

Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS) allows a photographer to control remote flashes wirelessly via infra-red signals. CLS also allows the photographer to centrally control the settings of each group of flashes from the commander.

The following are cameras that have the built-in commander - D70/s, D80, D90, D200, D300, D700. The D50, D40/x and D60 does not have the commander mode built into the camera. Nikon flashes SB-800 and SB-900 also have the commander built into the flash. Oh... the pro range of Nikons (e.g. D3, D3x) also do not have a built-in commander because it does not have a pop-up flash to send the pre-flash signals. In anycase, if you can afford the pro range of cameras, what's a SU-800 to you? The SU-800 is a device that is built specifically to be the commander.

For a camera with the built-in commander mode, it is via the pop-up flash that the infra-red signals are sent to the remote flashes. However, the pre-flash that sends out these signals are often captured as a light source, and Nikon made the SG-3IR to block the light but still allow the IR communication to happen.

There are some pros and cons to the CLS.

- Once you have the commander (esp. for those in-built with the camera), you can control your CLS flashes remotely.
- You do not need to buy additional devices to remotely trigger your CLS flashes.
- You are able to use TTL with remote CLS flashes.

- Line of sight between the commander and the remote CLS flashes is necessary.
- In outdoors environment, esp. under strong lighting, the communication between the commander and the remote flashes would be compromised.

The current line up of CLS enabled flashes are: SB-600, SB-800, SB900.

If you are able to get your hands on the DVD "Nikon School: A Hands-on Guide to Creative Lighting"... watch it! It features Joe McNally and Bob Krist teaching about lighting and also on how to use the Nikon CLS. The 2nd part of the DVD takes you to watch Joe McNally live in action on location shoots.

You can watch a trailer of this DVD here.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

DIY Flash Diffuser - A Step-by-step Guide

I like to DIY stuff, and in reality, there are many things we can DIY. I bought a Demb Flash Diffuser and looking at it, I believe it could be DIYed... so I went out in search of the stuff to do it... and here it is... a step-by-step guide...

Things to buy

1. Clips (Popular Bookstore - $2.15)

2. Velcro with adhesive side (Popular Bookstore - $2.70)

3. Card case B7 (Note: This is optional... You do not need to buy this and can just insert a card into the clip)

4. Elastic band

Putting it all together

A. Cut velcro to desired length and a short piece of elastic band.

B. Stick elastic band to the velcro

C. Completed velcro band with elastic (It is advisible if you can stitch it together with needle and thread so that it holds better and does not just rely on the sticky part of the velcro.)

D. Put white paper in the card case

E. Elastic band around the flash (I'm using a SB-600 here)

F. Place card case with paper into the clip (Note: You can place any bounce material that you desire into the clip)

G. SB600 with flash diffuser

H. Cut a piece of Ikea drawer lining and stick velcro on it.

I. Completed project

Here is a sample picture using the DIY flash diffuser...

Recently, a friend of mine bought a PRESSlite VerteX, and I was pretty impressed by it. This is one device that would be tough to DIY.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

My flash does not have a sync terminal!

Oh no! My flash does not have a sync terminal! What can I do?

Well, the simplest way is to get a hotshoe adaptor with a sync terminal. You would mount your flash on the hotshoe adaptor and connecting the cable to the sync terminal of the hotshoe adaptor.

In the above picture, this hotshoe adaptor not only has a sync terminal, it also has an optical slave. This device cost about $20. The optical slave is also useful, and it is the cheap alternative to the Nikon SU-4 device (which cost about $180). When the optical slave optically detects that a flash has been fired, it would then trigger the flash mounted on the adaptor. With this device, you can also trigger your flash wirelessly, but what you need is line of sight between the flash that is being fired and the optical slave. In bright outdoors environment, the optical slave may not work very well.

Flashes for strobbing

Ever since David Hobby started the strobist, there has been a rise in the number of people who use off-camera flash strobes, and with that came the demand for old flashes to be used as strobes. You could, of course, spend 2 to 5 times more just to get the latest speedlight, but because a lot of strobbing depends on manual flash settings, an old flash would do just as well. With David Hobby telling the strobist world to "Steal This Flash - The Nikon SB-24", these older models of Nikon flashes have increased in their price on the 2nd hand market.

A brand Nikon SB-600 cost about $350 and a new SB-900 about $680. The SB-800s have been discontinued, but if you can find them at a good price, it is worth getting. Nikon flashes have been known for their consistent output, reliability and durability. Hence, many old Nikon flashes have come back to life as off-camera strobes. These old Nikon flashes go for around $150 each.

The one thing I look for in the flash for strobbing is that it should have a sync terminal. The reason being that the connection from the Pocket Wizard Plus II to the flash is through this sync terminal. Unfortunately, the SB-600 does not have a sync terminal, and a hotshoe adaptor with a sync terminal has to be used, and the SB-600 to be mounted on the hotshoe adaptor. Not all flashes have this sync terminal, but if you can find any of the following at a good price, it is worth grabbing them.

Nikon SB-24 (1988)
Nikon SB-25 (1992)
Nikon SB-26 (1994)
Nikon SB-28 (1997)
Nikon SB-28DX (1999)
Nikon SB-80DX (2002)
Nikon SB-800 (2003)
Nikon SB-900 (2008)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Street shooting and HDR

Went and did some street shooting with Yapster today (no strobbing stuff in this post) after taking a trip to Nikon Service Center to clean Yapster's D700 sensor. It is interesting to see Yapster do street shooting, and he has an eye to look out for people and things around and capture that moment. A few times I missed a photo opportunity, but he got it!

We also took a trip to Funan and the Peninsular area City Hall MRT, where many camera shops are located. Went to John 3:16 Photo Supplies to inform Samuel that some of my friends would be coming later as Carissa would like to get a D300 for her birthday... Happy birthday Carissa!

Well, I'm new to HDR (High Dynamic Range imaging), and Yapster taught me how to do it. Taking 3 shots using handheld exposure bracketing of -1, 0 and +1, it forms the 3 files to go back and do some HDR editing... and this is one of the pictures of my first attempt at HDR.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

I used to hate flash photography...

When I started in photography, I used to hate the pictures that I took when I had to use the flash because of the lack of available light. I thought at that time that people used flash only to supplement light so that a picture could be taken (I now know that it is only one of the many reasons people use flash!). The reason I did not like to use the flash was that the pictures I took tend to have portions too bright while other portions too dark. Basically, I did not understand the ONE most important aspect of photography... LIGHT!

Because I didn't like to use the flash, I started to buy fast lenses... the faster the better! Fast lenses have their pros (if not why would anyone pay so much for one), but I also started to learn that using flash in photography also had advantages. The key about flash photography was to learn how to control the light that you have around you (ambient) and the light from the flash, and how you balance that out in your picture.

So... I began to read up about lighting, and flash photography. One technology that is in most camera systems today is the TTL (Through The Lens) technology, and if you are using TTL, it is also good to know how TTL works (I'm the sort of guy who needs to know from ground up how something works). Have a read at Moose Peterson's article on The TTL Flash System.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Zero to Hero 5 Photoshoot

A few friends and I were recently down at Raffles Place on a Sunday to shoot the participants of Zero to Hero season 5. Zero to Hero is a programme run by Vertical Care Services where youths who have little or no knowledge of music form their own bands, and are trained to play and sing as a band... moving from zeroes to heroes!

For this shoot, I decided that I wanted to capture some jump shots, and also wide angle perspective shots. These 2 shots were taken using 3 flashes placed to my left, right, and one just next to me. I was also using a GND to take these pics.

If you want to see more of the shots, you can go to my flickr page. My friend Ian was also there... and you can check out some of his shots on his blog.

Welcome to SG Strobist!

Welcome to SG Strobist! I decided to start this blog after sitting down at Jurong Point and reading the Feb 2009 issue of Practical Photography, and it features a section called "Flashgun Fanatics"! It is talking about a group of photographers who use their camera flashes as off-camera strobes to create great photos without the heavy studio equipment... and I am one of them!

I started in the world of digital photography with my first DSLR in June 2007 with a Nikon D40x. Around mid-2008, my friend Yapster (that's his nick) introduced me to the world of the strobist, and I've been sinking deeper into it.

Well, one of the things I like to do in life is to teach. Recently, my friend James and I did a pilot programme to teach hobbyist the basics of photography. I'll try to make this blog something where we can learn and will link to information that will help us all in photography.

So... have fun at this blog and feel free to put your comments :-)