Getting Ready for My 11/4 NYC Model Shoot: Six Days of Speedlite Tips - in one post

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A while back I ran a series here on my blog, Six Days of Speedlite Tips.

I have put all the tips together in one post in preparation for my November 4th NY Model Shoot/Workshop.

Speedlites will be only one of the lighting sources we use. Dave Piazza from Westcott is bringing Spider Lights and strobes for the photographers to use.

We still have room for a few photographers.

Below are are models for the shoot. Three models, three sets ups, three instructors, 18 photographers - and one heck of a cool location.

Okay, on with the tips.

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Because some folks are just starting out, I thought it would be a good idea to share with you my Basic Studio and On-Location Speedlite Setup.

But first, here's a practical tip: If you want a dramatic portrait, don't light the entire subject. Use shadows to add a sense of drama to portrait.

Here's a look at the gear I recommend for setting up a basic studio/on-location speedlite setup.

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Westcott Apollo Softbox kit - for shaping the light for an individual portrait.
Westcott Grid for Apollo softbox - for shaping the light even more.
Westcott Orb Speedlite kit - for softer, wrap-around lighting and for small groups.
Westcott 6-in-1 Reflector/Diffuser kit - bounce a speedlite into a reflector or fire it through a diffuser for a larger light source: the larger the light, the softer the light.

Honl Gel kit - for adding color to the light.
Honl Grid - for shaping the light from a speedlite.
Honl Speed Strap - for attaching grids and gels to your speedlite.

Westcott Black Cloth backdrop - for low key portraits.
Westcott White Cloth backdrop - for high key portraits.

If you are in the market for a Canon speedlite system, here are my recos:
Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite
Canon ST-E3 Speedlite Transmitter

For serious shooters, I recommend shooting tethered using the Tether Tools kit.

If you like on-line learning, check out my Kelby Training on-line classes. Master composition and learn how to see the light.

• • • • •

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"The Doorhof is always open." Translation: My friend and fellow Kelby Training instructor Frank Doorhof is always available to share how-to photo info with photographers around the world.

What's more, Frank's door – literally – is always open. He invited me into his studio in Holland last year for a cool studio shoot.

Frank is an expert on speedlites, so he was a natural choice as a guest blogger for my 6-day speedlite series. Scroll down for previous tips in this series.

Take it away, Frank.

Small flash : How to make a difference and maximize results.

When my friend Rick asked me to give a quick tip on small flash, it did not take me long to come up with an idea to share with you guys.

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We all know the problem: You're on a location and everything goes as planned. You shoot the stuff your client wants and you all go home happy. But how often does it happen that afterward, your client says something like, "You know, the look is great but . . . ."

Well, the following tip will make sure that this problem is solved before it happens. It may also give you more revenue from your shoots.

When shooting on location, always make sure that you deliver two series of pictures: one with speedlites and one with only the natural light. That way, you can deliver two different looks for the price of one. Even if your client says that he/she only wants the strobe versions, just do it anyway because sometimes it's not only the on-site client that makes the final decision.

The first image in this post was taken with only natural light, and the other two were made using two Canon speedlites. We used two strobes stacked with Rogue Flash Benders from ExpoImaging to light the model.

I set my speedlites to HSS (High Speed Sync) to fight the super bright ambient light –  and to get a moody, almost fairytale atmosphere in the photographs. By stacking the two strobes, I got an increase of one stop of light output, which was not really needed here, but with two strobes, the recycling time is much faster, and the batteries last longer.

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Now most of you (including Rick "Mr. Canon E-TTL" Sammon) know that I almost always use light meters. One of the biggest things you can learn you about using light meters is to know when you need them and when not. In this case, I wanted results quick and very variable, because the window of time to shoot this was really limited, so I used manual mode on the camera and E-TTL on the strobes. Annewiek (my wife) was holding the strobes and walked around the model, changing the position of the strobes for different takes.

I knew I only wanted to use two-three shots from this location, so I wanted to maximize my photo choices. To meter everything after each change would limit my time, so in this case E-TTL rocked. However, it's not perfect or consistent, but because you're not shooting a series in a single location and you want to maximize the results, it's a great option to use.

For more photography tips, please visit my web site. While you are there, please check out my instructional dowloads. And remember, the Doorhof is always open.

• • • • •

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Today's tips:  Light the background . . . add a pattern to the background . . . change the color of the background. Have fun!

Watch the video, which was recorded in the TWiP studio with my friends Catherine Hall and Leo Laporte. Good fun - and good info. My segment starts about 23 minutes into the show.

The show was recorded a few years before I switched to Squarespace for my .com site.

If you like on-line learning, check out my Kelby Training on-line classes. Master composition and learn how to see the light.

Accessories used for this shoot:
- Honl Gel Kit. Lets you add color to the light from your speedlite.
- Honl 1/8" Grid. Lets you focus the light. 
- Tether Tools Essentials Pack. Hooks up your camera to your computer.
- My custom cardboard light modifier. :-)

My lens for this shoot: Canon 24-105mm IS lens, which I use for most of my photography.

• • • • •

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Today's tip: Use your speedlite for wildlife photography.

Concept: Balance the light from the speedlite to the natural light - so your photograph is a combination of both natural light and the light from your speedlite. Here's how to do it:

1) Set your camera to the Manual Exposure mode.
2) Adjust the aperture/shutter speed combination for a correct exposure.
3) Don't set a shutter speed higher than 1/200th of a sec. (max synch speed of most cameras).
3a) Setting a faster shutter speed is possible if you have high-synch speed capability.
4) Turn on your flash and set it to E-TTL.
5) Adjust the +/- setting until your subject is correctly exposed.

With this simple technique, it's possible to control the brightness of the subject and background independently, which is kinda cool.

In very bright conditions, start by setting a low ISO. If your flash does not illuminate a distant subject, you may need to boost your ISO.

Using a flash accessory such as the Better Beamer will extend the maximum illumination distance of your speedlite.

For more detailed lighting tips, see my Apps.

• • • • •

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Today's tip: Create Terrific Top Light.

Concept: Position the light directly above the subject. Use "voice activated" light stands to save on real light stands. Use a softbox with a recessed diffusion panel to soften and direct the light. Moving the softbox a few inches can dramatically change where the shadows fall and how much of your subject is illuminated. I talk more about shadows (and light) in my Kelby Training class: Light - the main element in every photograph. Info on my On-line Classes page.

Recommended Gear:
Canon 5D Mark III
Canon 24-105mm IS lens
Westcott Apollo Softbox kit
Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite
Canon ST-E3 Speedlite Transmitter
Tether Tools kit.

• • • • •

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Today's tip: Create Cool Rim Light.

Concept: Position the subject slightly in front of the soft box. Have the subject look straight ahead (in the opposite direction in which the softbox is facing) so you get a profile. Basically, you want the light coming from slightly in front of and behind the subject. If that's confusion, simply see the above diagram.

You need to experiment with subject position and flash output to get the shot you want. I always shoot on E-TTL and vary the light output with my wireless transmitter, but you can control that in camera, too.

BTW: A softbox with a recessed front diffusion panel is a very important accessory for this technique. It allows you to control the light to a greater degree than an umbrella or an octodome.

Recommended Gear:
Canon 5D Mark III
Canon 24-105mm IS lens
Westcott Apollo Softbox kit
Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite
Canon ST-E3 Speedlite Transmitter
Tether Tools kit.

For more detailed lighting tips, see my Apps. For hands-on learning, check out my workshops.

If you like stuff like this, you can subscribe to my blog here.

Explore the light,

This post sponsored by Westcott. Check 'em out for all your lighting needs.

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Model/Lighting Workshop Added to My 2015 Florida Workshop List

I just added another workshop to my January 2015 workshop list. Here's the info:

South Florida Studio Model Shoot


• Learn speedlite lighting and model photography with me and my good friend Cesar Rivera. We'll have some studio lights, too!
• Shoot in a real photo studio.
• Use Westcott softboxes, reflectors and diffusers. Gels, backgrounds and grids, too.

• We’ll have Canon speedlites. If you use Nikon, bring them along.
• 18 photographers, two instructors, two models.
• Door prizes: Four 128GB Lexar Compact Flash cards, 1 Westcott Apollo soft box, 8 Honl/ speedlite accessories.


• January 24, 2015 from 10:30 AM to 6:30 PM.
• AM: lighting demos by Rick and Cesar. Tethered shooting so all can see.
• Lunch (with group if you like, but not included)
• PM: photograph the models!

3001 Alhambra St.
Fort Lauderdale, Fl 33304
Parking in front of the studio $5 charge.

How to Register
Register here, and pay through my PayPal account:

You can use the photographs for your web site, but need to make arrangements with the models if you intend to sell an image.

Cost: One-time payment of $200. 50% refund up to 30 days in advance. Sorry, no refund after that.

For more info, shoot me an email.

Cesar and I hope to see you in the studio.

Explore the light,

P.S. If you live in the NY area, I have a similar workshop on November 4th, 2014.

Come on a Photo Safari with Me - at PPE

Above: Canon 70-300mm zoom lens.

Going to PPE - the Photo Plus Expo at the Javits Center in NY next week? If so, come on a photo safari (a virtual photo safari) with me at the Adorama booth: Thursday at 4 PM and Friday at 2 PM.

Above: Canon 70-300mm zoom lens - one of the sharpest zoom lenses Canon offers.

I'll share my favorite images – and offer advice on gear and wildlife photography.

Above: Canon 24-105mm zoom lens.

I'll also share some image processing tips.

Above: Canon 8-15mm zoom lens.

People are part of photo safari storytelling, so I will include some people pictures in my slide show.

If you can't attend my PPE Photo Safari presentations, check out my KelbyOne class: Wild Safari on my On-Line Classes page.

Finally, check out my 24 Hours on the Mara video with Jonathan Scott.

Explore the light,


Why I Enjoy Giving My Creative Visualization Seminars

Each year, I give more than a dozen Creative Visualization seminars (most are sponsored by Canon USA as part of the Canon Explorers of Light program). I thoroughly enjoy giving these seminars - which range from two to six hours. Here's why:

1) I get to meet inspiring people. For example, this past weekend, during my Carlisle, PA Canon Explorers of Light presentation, it was an honor to meet D. Craig Flory (pictured with me). This man (photographer/Photoshop Instructor) is amazing. An inspiration.

Talking with Craig brought a tear (more than one to be honest) to my eye. He had a stroke a few years ago. His business card reads: Ischemic Stroke Survivor, May 30th, 2010.

He told me, with a slight smile, "Stokes Suck."

During my presentation I talked about the Four Levels of Learning. Santana (who is at the 4th level) came up.

Because it's a bit hard for my new friend to speak, he wrote the note you see here and handed it to me during a break. It was one of several notes he gave me to during my talk.

Friends: What happen to my new friend could happen to any of us. Make every day count, as D. Craig Flory does - with a smile!

2) I get to meet talented photographers, like Shari Ferguson, who, during our after-dinner critique session, shared the picture of her daughter, Bailie, you see on the top right. I love the mood of the photograph. Shari was just one of several talented photographers I met in Carlisle.

 3) Giving presentations keeps me fresh – because I am always "refreshing" my talks with new images and information. What's more, I am always mixing up my talks – never giving the exact same talk twice.

4) I learn new stuff via the questions asked by the folks in the audience. Learning is health.

5) I enjoying teaching all aspects of photography. In Carlisle, after giving my Creative Visualization talk, I gave a one-hour speedlite session, which was followed by my "Top Ten Techniques to Get Inspired" talk. Thank you, Craig, for taking the photo of me teaching during the speedlite session!

I have a few more seminars this year. I hope to see some of you as I travel around the country.

And to all those who inspire me at my talks, a big "thank you."

Explore the light,

P.S. Creative Visualization is the process in which you envision the end result, as illustrated in this before-and-after pair of Iceland images.

We need to envision how different apertures, shutter speeds, exposures, lenses and different composition techniques effect an image.

We need to envision the effect of light on a scene, and how that light is recorded.

Finally, we need to visualize all the creative possibilities that await us in the digital darkroom - using Lightroom, Photoshop and plug-ins.

And most important, we need to visualize the mood or feeling we are trying to create. After all, it's the mood that matters most.

I also teach Creative Visualization on all my workshops.

In closing, count your blessing. Every day.


Today's Guest Blogger: Dave Ray

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Today's guest blogger, from the other side of the planet (from New York, anyway), is Dave Ray. Take it away Dave.

Major thanks to Rick for granting me this opportunity to guest blog. 

 Like Rick, I don’t strongly specialize in any particular area of photography except that I seldom photograph in my region of origin, and I love capturing images of people. I used to tell people that I’m an ethno-photographer, but about the only person who ever understood what that meant was Lauren Stockbower—picture editor for Nat Geo!

The Power of People Images

As top wedding photographer Bambi Cantrell has emphasized, an image may be somewhat technically flawed, but it will still be compelling if it shows expression!

 Opening Image--Private Laugh, Hindu Dancers, Penang, Malaysia

Being ready to catch the moment when people’s candid expressions erupt is the critical. Typically, I smile & ask people if they mind if I take their picture. Then, I’ve found they usually feel most comfortable if I pull out my take-with-me-everywhere small pocket camera (like the Canon S100 series) to take a few images as they get used to me clicking away.  As the relationship warms up, I’ll pull out my pro DSLR. 

Back in the analog days I learned from an old pro who always got his best images of his kids playing after spending a few minutes pretending to take their photos without ever really pushing the shutter button & wasting film on camera-conscious poses. After they got over him aiming the camera at them & turned their attention back to their friends, he found many opportunities to capture genuine expressions as they played.

Often it’s not much different with adults.

Expression is revealed around the mouth, in a person’s posture and in the hands, but, of course, it’s caught, more than anywhere else, in the eyes. As a great teacher said, “The eye is the lamp of the body.”

Young Hindu, Ahmedabad, India

 I know I’ve captured the right catch light—when I can discern myself in sharp focus in the person’s eye. It’s usually most important and sufficient to achieve that sharp focus in the nearest eye.

Landscapes Plus

You can’t travel the world without also getting passionate about capturing landscape images.  But, even here, I usually prefer to include human figures.

Mamburit kids & boat, Indonesia

Subtle patterns & negative space in nature—supplemented with the powerful visual mass (David DuChemin’s concept) in the human figure—combine to form stronger images.

But what do you do when pesky tourists invade the frame of a great landscape image?  Usually you have to wait for, if not bait them, to leave!  But sometimes even they can help create a delightful image.  Concentrate on building your image from the back forward by choosing first a compelling background, then as the tourists mingle in your foreground, isolate one or two, quickly position yourself to gain a compelling perspective & capture!

Tourists on Borobudur Temple, Indonesia

It’s All About Light

Rick typically ends his blogs, Explore the light!

That jives deeply with how Galen Rowell started his book Mountain Light:  In Search of the Dynamic Landscape.  He opens there saying, “Most amateur photographers think of landscapes simply as objects to be photographed. They tend to forget that they are never photographing any object, but rather light itself . . . .  my thoughts center on light rather than on the landscape. I search for perfect light, then hunt for something earthbound to match it with . . . . When the light is right and everything is working for me, I feel as tense as when making a difficult maneuver high on a mountain.  A minute-and sometimes mere seconds—can make the difference between a superb image and a mundane one” (4, 2nd ed., 1995).

I was thinking of that insight one day as my wife & I were driving along Penang’s north coast & saw amazing light exploding all around us as the low afternoon sun radiated under an incoming storm. I didn’t know what subject I wanted to capture, but there was great light everywhere. So, my camera came out, & there it was—the earthbound subject to match the light. 

So, there it is.  Catch & explore the light!

Malay net fisherman, Malaysia

If you’d like to sharpen your skills in destination world photography, look at Rick’s Workshops page to capture your spot on our upcoming Java-Bali Photo Workshop in 2015.