Getting Ready for My NY 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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On Safari with the Canon 5D Mark III. Day 5: The Main Event

Today is the last day in my photo safari series here on my blog. Scroll down to see earlier posts.

All the photographs were taken while we were on a photo safari with our good friends Jonathan and Angela Scott – known and respected around the world as "The Big Cat People."

Today is Day 5: The Main Event

The main event during our stay on the Masai Mara was photographing the migration of the zebra and wildebeest. One morning we saw more than 5,000 animals on the move. The animals follow the rain so they always have something to eat.

In this post I'll share some, only some, my favorite migration photographs, along with some photo tips. I'll be sharing all my Masai Mara photographs at my upcoming seminars.

The photographs were taken on three different days at three different locations.

Opening Image: Compose carefully. Notice the nice "S" curve in this photography. Learn more about composition in my KelbyOne class: Composition - the strongest way of seeing. Lens: Canon 24-105mm IS.

Above: Check your aperture to make sure you have the desired depth of field. Lens: Canon 24-105mm IS.

Above: Use foreground elements to add a sense of scale and depth to a photograph. Lens: Canon 70-300mm IS.

Above: Use slow shutter speeds to add a sense of movement to fast-moving subjects. Another tip: Use plug-ins to remove some of the reality from a scene. Lens: Canon 70-300mm IS.

Above: Take close-ups to tell the whole story. The story here: two crocks are eating a wildebeest that did not make it across the water. We talk about storytelling on my workshops. Lens: Canon 200-400mm IS.

Above: Wildlife photography requires patience. One morning we waited more than three hours for the animals to cross the Mara River. Here I am deep in thought - planning the next trip! :-) Lens: Canon 15mm, but I recommend the Canon 8-15mm lens. Oh yeah, they never crossed.

Above: The team that made my photographs possible.

I'm feeling a bit sad as this series comes to a close. I miss the Mara and my friends Jonathan and Angela Scott, as well as our guide Simon Sitienei. I also miss our home away from home for the safari, Governors' Camp.

The good news is that we'll be back!

Shoot me an email if you are interested in a small group or private African photo safari. Jonathan and I are making some cool plans!

Until then, check out the videos we made in the Masai Mara.

Thank you all for following along.

Rick Sammon,
Canon Explorer of Light

On Safari with the Canon 5D Mark III. Day 4: Memories from a Maasai Village

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I'm running a series of posts here on my blog: On a Photo Safari with the Canon 5D Mark III.

Today is Day 4: Memories from a Maasai Village. Tomorrow is the final day in this series.

One of the highlights of our September 2014 Kenya photo safari – with our good friends Jonathan and Angela Scott (known as "The Big Cat People") – was a visit to Willima Pere's Village.

Below: That's Jonathan and Angie (on the left) photographing with me (on the right). Jonathan and Angie are Canon Ambassadors, like Canon Explorers of the Light here in the America.

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In this post we'll share a few of our favorite photographs, along with some photo tips.

Lens for opening image: Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens. Tip: Use your camera like a spaceship. In other words, photograph from all angles, directions and levels.

Lens for above image: Canon 17-40mm lens. Tips: When you think you are close, get closer. The closer you are to a subject, the more intimate the photograph becomes. When you are shooting close, check your aperture and make sure you get the desired depth-of-field.

Shortly after our arrival, we were met my a group of singers who welcomed us to the village. The singing was memorizing. Talk about feeling welcome!

Lens for above image: Canon 17-40mm lens. Tip: Watch the background. I got down low to help isolated the jumpers from the background.

Visitors to Maasai villages often get to see and photograph the traditional adume, or jumping dance. If you go on a photo safari, don't miss the opportunity to visit a village and photograph a jumping dance. Lots of fun and excitement.

Lens for above image: Canon 17-40mm lens. Tip: Join in the fun, and make it fun for everyone. Hey, I think photography and traveling keeps one young. Never thought I'd be doing this at 64!

Lens for this portrait of a Maasai woman: Canon 24-105mm IS.

• First and foremost, respect the subject. If you respect the subject, the subject will respect you.
• Shoot at the subject's level, so the person looking at your portrait can relate to the subject.
• Make pictures. In this case I used the doorway to the woman's hut as my black studio background.
• Focus on the eyes. If the eyes are not well lit and in focus, you've missed the shot - unless you are looking for a specific mood for feeling.
• Visualize the end-result. Know how your camera settings and the light will affect your photograph.
• Strive for a personality portrait. Try to capture the personality of the subject, which was very joyful in this case.
• Keep in mind that for a successful portrait, the subject does not always need to be looking at you/the camera.


If you like on-location portraiture, don't miss my previous post (with the above pair of images) in this series.


Once again, I'd like to thank Jonathan and Angie for inviting us to go on a photo safari with them. Truly an awesome experience. Check out some of the movies Jonathan and I made on my YouTube channel.

Scroll down, or return to my blog, for previous posts in this series.

I will be returning to Kenya for some projects in the future. Stay tuned.

Going on a photo safari? Want to learn about composition and exposure? I have several on-line classes just for you.

In closing, above is another photograph by Susan. She follows the tips (photo and processing) that I share on my workshops. :-)

Explore the light,
Canon Explorer of Light

P.S. A special "thank you" goes to Governors' Camp for making our stay on the Mara, well, perfect.

Immerse Yourself This Weekend in Creating Impressionistic-like Images - and save 25% off Topaz Impressions until September 30

Van Gogh I effect.

Van Gogh I effect.

Topaz Impression - from Topaz Labs - is a new addition to the set of plug-ins I use and recommend to my workshops students.

Save 25% off until September 30 on Total Impression using this code: SEPIMPRESSION. Here's the link.

Impasto effect.

Impasto effect.

Totally originally impressionist-like images are possible when you combine a few clicks of a mouse (on a preset) with dozens of slider adjustments.

Cezanne I effect.

Cezanne I effect.

Great fun. Cool creativity.

Van Gogh effect.

Van Gogh effect.

Plug-in help us awaken the artist within.

Monet Effect.

Monet Effect.

All the plug-ins I use are listed on my Play & Save on Plug-ins page.

Impasto I Effect.

Impasto I Effect.

Explore the light,

P.S. These Saturday and Sunday Savings are still in effect. Click here or the image below.

On Safari with the Canon 5D Mark III. Day 3: Serious About Portraiture? Get Series About Controlling The Light

We've been back a week (almost to the hour) from our awesome adventure to Kenya's magical Masai Mara with our good friends Jonathan and Angela Scott - known and respected around the world as "The Big Cat People."

One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Willima Pere's Village, where I took this portrait of Alex, who, to me, looked like the coolest dude in the village.

Portraiture is all about light and shadows - because light illuminates and shadow define, topics I talk about in my KelbyOne class on lighting.

The light in the portrait on the right is flat, so I think the portrait falls flat.

The portrait on the left has, to me, not only more light, but more life.

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I added the light (brightness, color and contrast) by having our guide/driver/new friend, Simon Sitienie, hold the Sunlight side (as opposed to the Gold side) of the reflector in my Rick Sammon's On-location Lighting Kit and Tote so that the sunlight bounced beautifully onto Alex's face. The kit also contains a diffuser and speedlight diffuser.

Readers of my blog know that my favorite lens for on-location portraiture is the Canon 24-105mm IS lens.

I like the flexibility that this lens offers when it comes to composing a portrait, as well as its sharpness.

Stay tuned for more images from our visit to this village, and scroll down for more posts in this series.

Here's a fun shot of Simon checking out Jonathan's Canon 200-400mm IS lens. I used my 200-400 for most of my wildlife photographs on the trip.

Explore the light,

P.S. A special "thank you" goes to Governors' Camp for making our stay on the Mara, well, perfect.