Setting up the 7-foot umbrella and diffuser by yourself

Working alone in the studio

This may be old news to all of you out there, but I have seen some people (including myself!) struggle to attach the diffusion cloth to a 7-foot umbrella. The first few times I tried to set one up I opened the umbrella and then tried to stretch the fabric onto the open umbrella. My arms weren't quite long enough to reach across the umbrella and I wished I had a third arm and hand to hold the cloth in one spot while my other hands stretched the fabric over the umbrella.

My next attempt was to attach the diffuser to the flash head, insert the open umbrella into the head, and then try to stretch the diffuser over the umbrella. Again, I couldn't quite reach to hold the fabric to the umbrella on one edge while trying to stretch the fabric across to the other side of the umbrella.

Then one day I figured out that there was a better and faster way. Below you can see a video of me attaching the diffuser. I start with the collapsed umbrella, then I pick up the diffuser and pull it up my arm with my hand going through the center opening. Then I pick up the umbrella and stand it up with its point on the ground. I then start opening the umbrella, then pick it up and put both hands through the center opening to fully spread the umbrella out with the diffuser attached. Done in just a few seconds without the need for a third arm or another person.

Getting all the modifier that you paid for

While talking about the 7-foot umbrella and diffuser, let's take a refresher look at how some different lights interact with the big umbrellas. Even though the umbrella is big, it doesn't mean that the light coming out of it is as big as you might think.

This is especially an issue with speed lights. Here I am going to compare the coverage of a spedlight vs an Einstein studio light without the diffuser.

speed light on the left and Einstein on the right in a medium size umbrella. 

speed light on the left and Einstein on the right in a medium size umbrella. 

You can see that the speed light concentrates its output and leaves a lot of the umbrella relatively unlit. This happens even with speed lights that let you adjust the spread of the light. It is still too concentrated. The first reaction to this might be to add additional speed lights into the umbrella. But that will just make the output brighter, the light is still concentrated. The answer is to use a diffusion dome on the speed light. I believe that Nikon flashes come with the detachable dome. Canon and other flash users will probably need to get something like the Stofen diffuser to spread the light to fill the umbrella (or beauty dish or softbox or octa).

Adding a diffuser dome to the speed light helps it fill the modifier.

Adding a diffuser dome to the speed light helps it fill the modifier.

Even with studio strobe units you need to know how well they fill your modifiers. Here is a series of images of a 7-foot umbrella with an Interfit S1 battery powered strobe with and without a standard 7-inch dish reflector and with and without the diffuser.

interfit-7-inch-umbrella
170613-cornicello-5064.jpg
170613-cornicello-5062.jpg
170613-cornicello-5065.jpg

You can see that the 7-inch dish reflector blocks a lot of light from filling the umbrella. Removing the reflector exposes the protruding flash tube and glass dome to fill the umbrella better. Adding the diffusion panel goes another step further in improving the coverage, even with the 7-inch reflector in place. Removing the reflector will give a hot spot in the middle of the diffuser that some portrait photographers might prefer.

Shiny silver umbrellas are even harder to fill with light from a small source as you can see here.

silver-parabolic-speedlight.jpg
speedotron_202vf

The studio strobe head used here is a Speedotron 202VF which has a very large and protruding flash tube.

What is your experience with using large umbrellas? Do you have another way to attach the diffuser? Let me know in the comments!


Donation Amounts

Instead of providing affiliate links and pushing you towards one store or vendor over another, I am trying something different. If you find the information in my blog posts to be helpful please consider making a small donation to me via paypal using the button below.

Thank you for following along! If there is a photo topic you would like to see covered here please let me know in the comments section.

Cheers!
John Cornicello

Beauty Dish Deflector

No, it doesn't make you beautiful. That comes from being you.

Over the years I've noticed that most beauty dishes come with an opaque (usually metal, sometimes plastic) deflector disk in front of the flash tube. This takes the light from the flash tube that is sticking into the beauty dish and blocks the light from traveling straight forward. Instead the light is deflected back and most of the light coming out of the dish is from the side-spill that fills the dish. If you are using a Profoto D1, B1, B2, etc, that have a flat front with no protruding flash tube might want to consider adding the Profoto glass diffusion  dome if you find your beauty dish photos are a little flat*. 

Some beauty dishes, such as the 22" model from Speedotron, have a translucent disk instead of the opaque disk so some light does come forward from the flash. I remember another dish (but cannot remember who made it) that had a honeycomb grid in the  middle of the dish instead of the opaque disk.

Until recently, I hadn't give this all that much thought about how the choice of opaque or translucent disk would affect the light coming out of the dish on to our subjects. So today's little project became cutting an opaque center disk for my Speedotron beauty dish so I could compare the looks of the two deflectors. Drag the line across the image to see more or less of each version...

What is your take on this? Is there a difference? The meter readings for the two images were 2/3 of a stop different (f/13 for the solid disk, f/16 for the translucent disk). Other than that, the images are identical except for the deflector disk in the beauty dish.

*I would really like to hear from Profoto users who have the pro heads with protruding flash tubes and also have the flat front B- or D- series heads who have used both with beauty dishes and can comment if they do or don't see a difference in the look of the light from the beauty dish.


Donation Amounts

Instead of providing affiliate links and pushing you towards one store or vendor over another, I am trying something different. If you find the information in my blog posts to be helpful please consider making a small donation to me via paypal using the button below.

Thank you for following along! If there is a photo topic you would like to see covered here please let me know in the comments section.

Cheers!
John Cornicello

Enough with the megapixels and ISO!

What I want from the camera manufacturers

I was talking with Jared Platt and Jim Schmelzer after the classes I helped them with at Glazer's Camera's PhotoFest 2017 in Seattle today. After some technical discussions about high speed sync, hypersync, and old ASCOR strobes the conversation turned to camera features. Here are two, no make that three, changes we would like to see in ISO and megapixels. I have no idea if these are practical or feasible, but hey! Let's at least put it out there.

DROP THE ISO!!

The discussion of high speed sync led to our agreement that we don't need any more super high ISO settings. For portraits, especially outside with fill flash, we want LOW ISO settings. ISO 32, ISO 25, and even ISO 10 would be so welcome. Then we could more easily balance daylight exposures with fill flash and have some headroom to adjust shutter speed to control the ambient light levels without having the resort to high speed sync. High speed sync (HSS) is great. But it comes with a price--lower output power. Our lights have to be very close to our subjects with HSS. If we could go to a lower ISO we could keep the lights in regular sync mode and have the power available to back them up out of the frame or to use a larger light modifier with them. Right now the only way to do this with studio power level strobes that don't offer HSS is to use neutral density filters, and that has other complications, like difficulty focusing and dealing with color shifts from ND filters that aren't quite neutral. Are lower ISO settings too much to ask for?

If you aren't familiar with what is sometimes called syncro-sun flash, it is basically using a flash unit to supply fill light on a sunny day to lessen the shadows on your subject. You take an ambient light reading without the flash (let's say that is 1/60 at f/22 at ISO 100) and then you set your flash power to give an appropriate amount of light to open up the shadows. I picked the 1/60 shutter speed so that I have some headroom in case I want to vary the shutter speed to darken the ambient light exposure vs the flash. So, I could go as far as 1/200 to darken the ambient by 1 and 2/3 stops. But I am at f/22 and would much rather be somewhere around f/4 to lessen the depth of field and make the background less distracting. F/22 to f/4 is 5 stops. I could use a 5-stop neutral density filter on the lens to bring down the ambient light level to allow the f/4 aperture. 5 stops is a lot of light being cut out. It is going to give you a very dark viewfinder for composing and focusing. And it might be too dark for autofocus to work.

If, however, ISO 12 was available, the ambient exposure would be 1/60 at f/8 (3 stops different) and then only a 2 stop ND filter would be needed to get the exposure to f/4. Much easier to look through the viewfinder to compose and focus.

Enough with the megapixels!!

How many of us need more than about 20 - 24 megapixels? What if a camera manufacturer took a high megapixel sensor and used some of the pixels to extend dynamic range?

There are lens arrays that let you adjust focus after making the photo (see plenopticsa). And think of the Bayer filter array currently used to create color images. You have a red, a blue, and 2 green pixels that are used to create our color images. What if someone made an array of pixels that, in addition to color, produced an output of a dark, normal, and bright pixels that could be combined to create a kind of high dynamic range image without having to resort to combining multiple images in post processing? All the information would be in one file, so no worry about any movement during the bracketing sequence.

ISO Bracketing

Normally, we would bracket by taking a series of images in quick succession changing the f/stop (which changes the depth of field, which might affect alignment of the multiple images) or by changing the shutter speed (which changes the ability to stop motion, affecting alignment, and which won't work with flash exposures) on each of the images in the bracket. A third bracketing option is to bracket the ISO, but that usually requires additional equipment, like the CamRanger until camera manufacturers get wise to the need for ISO bracketing and add that to their cameras. If the bracketing could be done within one image you wouldn't have to worry about the change in depth of field or about subject movement between images. OK, so that's three things I want from the camera manufacturers, not two.

I haven't upgraded my Canon 5D MkIII or 6D bodies to newer higher megapixel models like the 5D MkIV or 5DSR. I don't need more megapixels. But if a new camera was introduced with better dynamic range and lower ISO settings, I'd be looking hard at purchasing the new model.

How about you? Do you see the benefits of lower ISO (they don't have to remove the higher ISO settings, those can stay, too), better dynamic range, or ISO bracketing? Please comment below.

 

Canon EOS M5 Mirrorless Camera issues

I love this camera

Let's get that out of the way. At first I had my doubts about Canon's move into the mirrorless market. The first few M-series cameras just weren't doing anything for me. But when I saw the M5 with its viewfinder and read the specs I decided to go for it and purchased the camera from my favorite camera store, Glazer's Camera here in Seattle. I have not been disappointed. Check out my earlier post comparing the image from the EOS 5M with an EOS 6D.

I initially purchased it to be my everyday carry-around camera, but have ended up using it more and more, sometimes in place of my usual 5D mkiii and 6D bodies. I opted to get the body-only version of the M5 along with the Canon Mount Adapter EF EOS M so I could use my current collection of EF and EFs lenses. I just wasn't happy with the slow apertures on the EOS M mount lenses available at the time. I wasn't (and still am not) bothered by having the adapter on the camera. In fact, I use the adapter as my tripod mount and as the mount for my ever-present handstrap. More on that later*.

All that said, I have run into a few small issues with the operation of the camera. These don't affect image quality or anything like that. And I haven't heard from anyone else about these. So I'm posting here to see if anyone chimes in with a "me, too" or a "no, never had that happen" comment.

Recycling file names?

The "biggie" for me is in the file naming/numbering system. I have found that when I fill a memory card and put in a new one the camera doesn't go to the next filename/number. Instead, it  goes back and reuses a few numbers. Then I end up with different images on different memory cards with the same file name coming out of the camera. Here is a video that I hope better explains what I am experiencing...

In the video I formatted the new card before using it, but I have seen the same thing happen if I just put in a card without formatting it.

I originally noticed this when I brought some images into Lightroom and when done importing the two cards I saw a few images with a "-2" added to the filenames. I knew I didn't have duplicate images, and it took me a while to figure it out (which happened the next time I filled a card in the middle of a photo session). In the menu system I have it set to Create Folder: Monthly and File Numbering: Continuous.

Let me know the memory card is full

The second issue is somewhat related to above. When the memory card is full the camera doesn't pop up a big warning in the viewfinder or on the back screen saying "card full" (like on its dSLR big brothers). Instead it just says 0/0 in the viewfinder and I sit there pressing the shutter button over and over wondering why the camera stopped working. The "No memory card" and "Cannot record" messages are similarly small and not as noticeable as on the dSLR bodies. I am hoping that a firmware upgrade at some point could add a more visible notice that the memory card is full.

EOS 5M "card full" warning (not very noticeable while trying to photograph)

EOS 5M "card full" warning (not very noticeable while trying to photograph)

EOS 6D Card full warning (much easier to notice)

EOS 6D Card full warning (much easier to notice)

Tell me there is no memory card installed

Third is that there doesn't seem to be a menu option to prevent taking a photo with no memory card installed. You get the small "No Memory Card" and "Cannot record" messages in the viewfinder or on the back of the camera, but it still allows you to operate the shutter. There is a "Release shutter without lens" option. Again, maybe a firmware upgrade can add this menu option as on the dSLR bodies. 

Over stablizing?

The fourth issue has to do with using lenses with Image Stabilization. When using the Canon EF 70-200 L F/4 IS lens and the Canon EFs 55-250 F/4-5.6 I notice that once I tap the shutter button the IS engages and stays on until I turn it off via the switch on the lens or by turning the camera off. On my dSLR bodies the IS disengages about 3 seconds after I lift pressure off the shutter button. Continuous AutoFocus is turned OFF on the camera. I worry about two things here, wearing out the IS components by being always on and battery life, which is already kind of poor because of the smaller battery in the smaller body and the electronic viewfinder. As an aside, I often fantasize that some day Canon will surprise mirrorless owners by sending a free spare battery to everyone who registers their camera). 

*Using the lens adapter tripod mount

Up above I mentioned the EF to EOS M adapter and tripod mount. I don't have any EOS M lenses, so the adapter is permanently mounted on my camera. And I keep my Peak Design Pro Plate attached to the adapter instead of to the camera. Most photographers who know me know that I live by the hand strap. Unfortunately, my favorite hand strap, the Peak Design Clutch, is too big for use with the small mirrorless body. So I went with the SpiderLight Hand Strap (which had an orange trim available) for the EOS M5. I attach the hand strap to the lens adapter, too. I feel that this gives a good balance. takes some stress off of the camera's tripod socket with longer and heavier lenses attached, and it makes sure that the battery/memory card door on the bottom of the camera is free to open and close without having to move the tripod plate or the hand strap out of the way. I don't think it would work at all if I used the tripod mount on the camera body instead of on the lens adapter.

Canon EF to EOS M lens adapter has a tripod mount where I attach my tripod plate and my ever-present hand strap.

Canon EF to EOS M lens adapter has a tripod mount where I attach my tripod plate and my ever-present hand strap.

This way of mounting the plate and strap leaves the battery/memory door clear to open and close unobstructed.

This way of mounting the plate and strap leaves the battery/memory door clear to open and close unobstructed.

I also have my Peak Design anchor link attached to the plate for those times I do use a neck strap.

I also have my Peak Design anchor link attached to the plate for those times I do use a neck strap.

I can change the battery and/or the memory card even when the camera is mounted on my tripod.

I can change the battery and/or the memory card even when the camera is mounted on my tripod.

Are you using a Canon EOS M5? Do you like it? have you noticed any of the above issues? Please let me know in the comments. Thanks!

What do the images look like?

Here is a gallery of images in chronological order made with the Canon EOS M5 in a variety of situations, including theatre, studio, events, nature, etc.


Donation Amounts

Instead of providing affiliate links and pushing you towards one store or vendor over another, I am trying something different. If you find the information in my blog posts to be helpful please consider making a small donation to me via paypal using the button below.

Thank you for following along! If there is a photo topic you would like to see covered here please let me know in the comments section.

Cheers!
John Cornicello

Testing the FOTGA 58mm variable neutral density filter

Does this thing work?

I’m not totally sure when/where I got this filter. I see that I bought a “neewer 58mm ND Fader filter” from Amazon back in November 2012 for $11. Maybe this is what they sent me back then and I just wasn’t paying very close attention to the brand. Anyway, I never used it all that much and when I did, I had some concerns about focus and sharpness. But I never really did any testing.

This week I started putting together a presentation on using speedlights and other flash units outdoors and needed to use an ND filter for some of the examples. So, I brought out this Fotga 58mm variable ND filter and decided to do some tests with it. I wanted to see a couple of things—focus and color shift. At $11, I wasn’t expecting the color to remain neutral. Many so-called neutral density filters, even at much higher cost, aren’t all that neutral. I’ve seen many reports of green, blue, and magenta color casts in ND filters. I had no idea what to expect in terms of sharpness. A variable ND filter is basically two polarizer filters combined in a rotating mount, so there are 4 more glass (or plastic) to air surfaces between your camera and subject. So I expect to see some effect on the sharpness of the image.

So, I set up a chart made up of radial lines and a Passport Color Checker with a Canon EOS M5 mirrorless camera and 85mm f/1.8 lens. The camera was mounted on a sturdy tripod and I used a cable release. The camera was set to ISO 100, aperture priority mode, tungsten white balance (I used the 250 watt quartz modeling lamp in an Einstein flash with a Photoflex Medium Silverdome NXT softbox). and f/5.6 (for something in the middle of the aperture range). I actually tested at a variety of f/stops, but am presenting the 5.6 images here, the others were similar). The filter was set to the 4th tick mark on the ring and the exposure time without the filter was 1/13 second and with the filter was 1/4 second (1-1/3 stops different).

Let me start by saying that the build quality on the filter seems pretty good. The filter elements spin smoothly, but are not so loose as to accidentally change the settings. The filter appears to be plastic. It easily screwed into the 58mm threads on the 85mm lens.

Yes, there is a color shift when using this filter. It was consistent at all ND settings of the filter, from Min to Max. There was a -200K to -300K shift in temperature and a +9 shift in tint. That is, the filter warmed up the image by 200-300 degrees Kelvin and added some green. Both easily corrected in the raw files in Lightroom.

Sharpness suffered slightly. I don’t know how to measure it, but you can see crops of the same section of the chart below. Without the filter you can clearly see the texture of the paper the chart is printed on. With the ND filter it is harder to see the texture. Still, for $11…

One interesting thing is the markings on the filter. I consistently noticed that between the MIN setting and the 4th hash line on the filter there was no change in exposure. That is at Min and f/1.8 and 4th line at f/1.8 the camera metered the same 1/40 shutter speed. At Min and 4th line at f/4 it remained at 1/8, and at f/8 it remained at 0.5 seconds shutter speed. Moving to the 8th hash line and to the MAX setting gave expected changes in the exposure.

Someone asked to see the comparison at f/1.8, so here it is:


Conclusion? This works for me in the limited uses I have for an ND filter. It should work great for cotton candy waterfalls, even providing a little warmth (like adding an 81a filter for those of you who still remember filters in the film age). In the studio, I have a strobe that can go way down in power when I want to photograph wide open, so I don’t need it there. I don’t do much outdoor fill flash with a studio strobe right now. And if I do, I will get a strobe that offers high speed sync, such as the Interfit S1, to handle wide open apertures instead of dealing with the hassles of ND filters in the field (dark viewfinder, auto-focus not working, trial-and-error metering and exposure settings, etc.). If I was doing critical work or client work that required a neutral density filter I would be looking at the Singh Ray filters, but their cost is a little bit more than $11 (more like $340 - $390 for a 58mm filter, depending on choice of standard or thin ring size). 

Other reviews of the FOTGA filters mention eBay and long delivery times. It looks like they are also available on Amazon, and I just ordered a 72mm for $13.99 to test on some telephoto lenses. Amazon says it should arrive in 2 days. I will add more to this post when I get to test the 72mm version.

Anyone else using these inexpensive variable ND filters?


Donation Amounts

Instead of providing affiliate links and pushing you towards one store or vendor over another, I am trying something different. If you find the information in my blog posts to be helpful please consider making a small donation to me via paypal using the button below.

Thank you for following along! If there is a photo topic you would like to see covered here please let me know in the comments section.

Cheers!
John Cornicello

Figure & Landscape

Thoughts on photographing models in nature

I wrote this in response to an Instagram post by GodSaveCarolynJean, but it apparantly was too long for a comment on Instagram. So, I'm posting it here.

Great food for thought on a dreary Thursday morning. Here is my take on the subject.

With anything in photography, I think it comes down to intention. How do you want to present the scene. What is your vision? Is the photo about the model or about the landscape? Then you can start to decide how to set it up. For me, lens choice is one of the last considerations. The primary consideration is distance. Do I (1) want to come in close on the model and make them the primary subject, large in the frame with the landscape small and distant, giving a lot of depth? Do I (2) want to give the model and the landscape equal billing? Do I (3) want to make the model primary, but with the landscape elements equal in size/stature, making a more graphic quality to the image? 

In the first scenario, I would want to get physically close to the model. This makes them large and it also makes the background recede. In this case you need to use a shorter focal length lens to allow you to be that close, yet fit the model into the frame. The result is great depth in the image, with the model looming large in the foreground and the landscape small and distant.

In the second scenario, I want to move back, away from the model so that the relationship of distances between them and the background evens out. Lens choice can be more varied here. A short to normal lens will take in a lot of the scene and the model and background will be smaller in the frame. The model becomes an element of the landscape, similar in stature to a large rock or small tree. Neither the model or the landscape is the hero here, they co-exist.

For the third scenario, again I want to move back away from the model, like in #2, but now I go for a longer lens. From the same camera position this will enlarge both the model and the background equally. Now the model is featured, but the background elements are brought in closer. The scene now looks more compressed and graphic.

Other camera settings will usually depend on the situation. You need to get the white balance and the exposure. For white balance, do you want to render the scene cool (blueish), neutral, or warm (yellow/orange cast)? 

Exposure is a combination of 4 things, the amount of light, the ISO, the shutter speed, and the aperture. I am assuming here that you are not adding fill flash or anything like that. So, outside, the light level is what it is. The ISO (sensitivity) will determine how clean or how grainy the image looks. I usually start with a low ISO as I can add grain and grittiness later if wanted. Shutter speed will control motion blur. If the landscape is barren, or the wind is still and the model isn’t moving and nothing in the background is moving, shutter speed can vary quite a bit and maintain no blur (if that is what you want, again, intention). 

So that leaves aperture, which determines depth of field. Aperture won’t affect scenario 2 all that much. Just set it at f/8 and use whatever shutter speed is called for (might need a tripod if the shutter speed is really slow). In Scenarios 1 and 3 you need more attention to the f/stop. Larger apertures (f/1.4 - f/4) with the focus on the model will give more out of focus blur (as opposed to motion blur) to the background. Stopping down to f/8 or smaller will get more of the background in focus. 

If at the selected aperture the exposure time becomes too long for the model or the background elements to keep still, then raise the ISO.

Condensed down: camera to subject distance determines the perspective. The closer the camera is to the subject, the smaller the background elements will be. Move back to equalize their size, Then choose the lens focal length to fill the frame the way you want after you determine the working distance. Then set white balance and exposure. For myself, outside I am usually in Aperture Priority mode, as i usually consider the f/stop to be my most important exposure setting. Once that is set, I look at my shutter speed to determine if I need to use a tripod or need to raise the ISO.

That takes care of the boring technical side. The emotional part comes from the time of day and light angles and from your relationship with the model and from post-processing choices. Do you make eye contact? Is the model unaware of the camera? Do they relate to anything in the scene or do they just be a part of the scene? But that is all another essay. 

Thanks for asking!

 

C-Stand tips

Tips for setting up a C-stand safely

C-stands, also called Century-Stands, are a very popular and useful accessory in the photo studio.  They were originally designed for film studios where they are used to hold various pieces of equipment such as gobos, flags, cutters, and small lighting fixtures. 

You can get just a basic C-Stand that consists of a base with three collapsible legs and a center column. Or you can get a C-Stand that adds a grip arm and knuckle for more versatility. There are a couple of base styles for C-Stands. Some C-Stands have a turtle base and a removable column. The column can be replaced with a baby pin to place a light close to the ground. Another type of base is called a stair or rocky mountain base. Here the column is not removable, but one of the legs of the C-Stand is adjustable so the stand can be used on a staircase or on uneven terrain. The three different leg heights on the C-Stand base allow the stands to be nested very close together. This allows you to set up a light and flag or two lights (maybe you like a small gridded light right in front of a large soft fill light) using very little floor space. Nesting also helps with storage of C-Stands.

Basic C-Standd with knuckle, arm, and grip head.

Basic C-Standd with knuckle, arm, and grip head.

Turtle base for a C-Stand with column removed.

Turtle base for a C-Stand with column removed.

Stair or Rocky Mountain C-Stand base for use on uneven surfaces.

Stair or Rocky Mountain C-Stand base for use on uneven surfaces.

C-Stands can be nested very close together. Note the weights on one of the stands.

C-Stands can be nested very close together. Note the weights on one of the stands.

C-Stands usually come with a grip arm and knuckle to allow you to mount accessories and to be able to move and adjust the accessories without having to move the stand itself. It is very important to know how to set up the knuckle and arm to prevent the arm from collapsing under the weight of the accessories mounted to the arm. The force of the weight and gravity should always be set to pull in a clockwise direction so that the weight on the arm will tighten the knuckle. If the arm is set up incorrectly the weight on the arm will eventually loosen the knuckle causing the arm to collapse. Take a look at the videos below.

INCORRECT way to set up the arm and knuckle. Any weight added to the grip head on the arm will pull the arm down, loosening the knuckle and causing the arm to collapse.

INCORRECT way to set up the arm and knuckle. Any weight added to the grip head on the arm will pull the arm down, loosening the knuckle and causing the arm to collapse.

If you add an arm to a C-Stand and position the arm and knuckle incorrectly the weight of anything mounted on the arm will loosen the knuckle and cause the arm to collapse.
When adding an arm to a C-Stand the knuckle should be set so that the weight of anything mounted on the arm pulls the knuckle tighter to prevent the arm from falling.

Some of the accessories that can be mounted to a C-Stand and arm are gobos, flags, nets, and cutters. These are used to help control the spill from a light, to reflect light, to add shadows, break up the light, etc. The arm has a grip head on one end to attach the accessories. Sometimes, in a pinch, the gobo arm can be used as a boom arm for a small light head. I would strongly suggest to NOT use an arm to hold a heavy light or a light with a large/heavy modifier on it. Please use a proper boom arm for these applications. If you do use the arm to support a small light head you can either mount the head to the bare end of the arm or you can insert a stud in the grip head and mount the light to the stud for more control over positioning. Be careful if you use the bare end of the arm as some arms are hollow and you can crush the arm if you tighten the light too much when attaching it. Again, remember to set up the knuckle and the arm so that the weight of the light will pull it tighter. Always use a sand bag or other heavy weight(s) on the base of the C-Stand to prevent it from tipping over. When using the grip arm I set it up so that the arm extends out over the largest leg of the stand. I drape my weights on the middle size leg and make sure that the weights are not touching the floor. I sometimes add more weights to the other legs, depending on what the C-Stand is supporting.

The "easy" way to mount a small lamp head to a grip arm. Be careful to not tighten the head too much as to crush the end of the grip arm.

The "easy" way to mount a small lamp head to a grip arm. Be careful to not tighten the head too much as to crush the end of the grip arm.

Stud inserted into the grip head to hold a small lamp head.

Stud inserted into the grip head to hold a small lamp head.

Reflector card mounted to the grip head.

Reflector card mounted to the grip head.

Small lamp head mounted to the grip head with a stud for more control.

Small lamp head mounted to the grip head with a stud for more control.

Flag mounted to the grip head.

Flag mounted to the grip head.

This is just a basic idea of how to use a C-Stand in your photo studio. There are many other handy uses of C-Stands, such as supporting backdrops and V-flats. Just remember to set them up correctly to not collapse under weight and add sand bags to the base to keep them from falling over. How do you use your C-Stands? Let me know in the comments below.


Donation Amounts

Instead of providing affiliate links and pushing you towards one store or vendor over another, I am trying something different. If you find the information in my blog posts to be helpful please consider making a small donation to me via paypal using this button.

Thank you for following along! If there is a photo topic you would like to see covered here please let me know in the comments section.

Cheers!
John Cornicello

Understanding High Speed Sync

It isn't about stopping motion

A few days ago I was having a conversation with another photographer and they brought up the idea of using high speed sync flash to stop motion. If I remember correctly, it was in regards to photographing liquid pouring out of a bottle into a glass. That got me thinking that the concept of hight speed sync (HSS) sounds like it might help, but that really isn't true.

Let's start with what HSS is. It allows you to sync your flash with shutter speeds above your normal sync speed so that you can use larger apertures for shallower depth of field or so that you can control the exposure on your background when working outdoors in full sunlight. A big minus is that HSS eats a lot of power and lowers the output of the flash and it eats through batteries (not an issue if you have an a/c powered flash).

What HSS does not do it help freeze motion. The two things that can help freeze motion are a fast shutter speed and/or a flash with a very short flash duration. High speed sync does let you use a faster shutter speed. But you no longer have a single fast flash burst. Instead, when your flash is in HSS mode it fires a number of times in rapid succession in sync with your camera’s shutter. The flashes are too close together for your eye to register them separately, so to your eye it looks like one flash, but it is actually strobing. At full power your speed light might take 1 to 3 or more seconds to recycle between flashes. In order to flash that many times in the short timespan of your shutter speed the flashes are relatively weak to allow the immediate recycling of the flash. 

To show this, I’ve set up a couple of very basic experiments with a speed light and a Paul C. Buff Einstein studio flash (which offers an “action” mode with a very fast flash duration). Nothing very fancy, it is just an ordinary personal size desk fan, a camera, and a light. As a control, the first image is taken without any flash. It is lit by window light with the ISO cranked way up (256,000) to allow for a shutter speed of 1/4000 second. You can clearly see that 1/4000 of a second was not fast enough to freeze the blades on the fan.

Next is a series of images lit by a Canon 430 EXII speed light, off camera, connected by a remote cable. The first two images are taken at 1/5 of a second and 1/200 of a second (normal sync mode) and you can see that the flash did a fairly decent job of freezing the blades of the fan, but not quite good enough to make the label on one of the blades readable. 

The next image is at 1/400 second, putting the flash into high speed sync mode. As you can see, it did a much worse job at freezing the blades of the fan. The next image moves the shutter speed up to 1/1250 of a second in HSS mode, and still a big blur. Even at 1/4000 of a second in HSS mode the label is a blur.

Compare the images at 1/4000 of a second with and without flash.

Very little difference in stopping action with or without a flash at 1/4000 of a second.

Very little difference in stopping action with or without a flash at 1/4000 of a second.

Now switch to the Einstein flash. The first two images have the Einstein in “color” mode which is intended to provide consistent color between flashes at the expense of a longer flash duration. You can see that at 1/2 second and at 1/160 of a second the label on the fan blade is not readily readable. 

Changing the Einstein to “Action” mode to provide a shorter flash duration gives us the last two images, made at 1/2 and 1/160 second. Even these have a blurred label, but much sharper than the images made with high speed sync at 1/4000 of a second. 

Now, I’m sure that most of us don’t have much occasion to photograph spinning fans. But we do sometimes get called on to photograph a liquid being poured. Does HSS help in this situation? I hope that you have already guessed the answer based on what you have read here so far. But let’s look at some images.

This time I will start with two using the Einstein. Each of these is at 1/2 second in “color” mode and in “action” mode. Both do a decent job of freezing the action of the pour and the bubbles.

Compare the above to the following images made with a speed light. The first one is at 1/60th second (normal sync) with good motion stopping. Next is at 1/500th second and we see that it is underexposed by a stop or two. Even with the flash being about 18-inches from the glass, it doesn’t have enough power to give me f/11. So, for the next image I bumped the ISO up from 100 to 400 to get a better exposure. Note that the action stopping is pretty much the same as at 1/60th of a second, at the cost of more noise due to the higher ISO (or you could give up depth of field and use a wider aperture—another tradeoff). Next I go to 1/2000 of a second, losing more power, but not gaining much, if anything, in the ability to stop action. 

Here are two pour photos side by side. One is lit with a speed light in high speed sync mode at a shutter speed of 1/2000th of a second. The other is lit by an Einstein flash in normal sync mode at 1/60th of a second. Can you see much difference in them? Can you tell which one is at 1/2000th of a second?

One of these pours is lit with a flash in normal sync at 1/60 of a second. The other is lit with a flash in High Speed Sync mode at 1/2000 of a second. Can you tell which is which?

One of these pours is lit with a flash in normal sync at 1/60 of a second. The other is lit with a flash in High Speed Sync mode at 1/2000 of a second. Can you tell which is which?

So, there you have it. High Speed Sync is not helping you freeze motion. It is mainly used for outdoor photos where you want fill flash at wide open apertures for limited depth of field and/or to control the ambient exposure. For example, let's say your are making a portrait outdoors and you want to use an aperture of f/2.8 and on that particular day the shutter speed would need to be 1/2000. Without HSS or the use of neutral density filters you can't use your flash to fill in shadows. You would have to lower your shutter speed to 1/200 to sync, and that would need an aperture of f/9 (3-1/3 stops difference). Using HSS would allow you to photograph at 1/2000 @ f/2.8 and use your flash (in pretty close to the subject, as it won't be a very powerful flash). It will also allow you to go to 1/4000 @ f/2.8 to darken the ambient exposure while still giving the subject the correct flash exposure.

What about HSS in the studio. Is HSS valuable in a studio situation? That depends on the lights you are using. Personally, I can’t think of a reason to use HSS indoors with speed lights. In ETTL mode you can set the aperture you want and a low ISO to be able to take photos at wide open apertures. With more powerful studio flash units it will depend on how low you can set the power on the flashes. If you find yourself with your flash at minimum power and it is still giving you a smaller aperture than you want, then you can  go into HSS mode and set your shutter speed above 1/250 and this will lower the power of the flash. Again, this is to control exposure, not to stop motion.

I hope this helps clarify things a bit. And, by the way, in the last image, A is 1/2000th of a second, B is 1/60th of a second.


Donation Amounts

Instead of providing affiliate links and pushing you towards one store or vendor over another, I am trying something different. If you find the information in my blog posts to be helpful please consider making a small donation to me via paypal using the button below.

Thank you for following along! If there is a photo topic you would like to see covered here please let me know in the comments section.

Cheers?
John Cornicello