Being inspired is a crucial part of being creative. The more things you feed your brain with, the more chance a great idea will bubble to the surface. I try to take inspiration from many sources but in this first instalment of what will probably become a sporadic series, I want to share with you a few photographers that never fail to give me an inspirational and motivational shove in the right direction.
David Hobby (aka The Strobist)
If you are into photography or lighting enough to be reading my blog, you are bound to have heard of The Strobist. David is the man who brought about the huge off-camera flash renaissance and drove the price of old Nikon flashes through the roof on eBay If you’ve not read it yet get the hell out of here and go read Strobist 101. I’ll wait! It was reading that series of posts and seeing just what you can do with small flashes that really sparked my interest in lighting. He’s since released two DVDs. The first is a solid intro to off-camera flash with some great live demonstrations while the second really shows how David has finessed his style and will take you even deeper. His current project is HoCo360 – a visual journal of his home county.
Zack is based in Atlanta and describes himself as an editorial and commercial photographer but he is also a great educator. Between them, David and Zack got me interested in working with lights and taught me more than I’ll ever be able to thank them for. Zack’s OneLight DVD is out of production unfortunately but his “shutter speed controls ambient, aperture control flash” mantra really made the penny drop for me. Not only is Zack incredibly good at explaining complex concepts, he has a practical, down to earth, no BS attitude that I have taken a lot from. His honesty and openness is refreshing in a “fake it til you make it” world. Zack also as a huge Tumblr site which is dedicated to nothing but Q&A. This is solid gold! There is everything from advice on lighting and composition to business and marketing tips. To give an idea of scale, Zack has answered well over a 1000 questions, but only 100 of them were needed to fill the The Photography Q&A Book
Chase epitomises frankness. He’s been blowing open the doors of the photography world for years, or as he puts it, he was “transparent long before it was hip to be so”. So long in fact that the old guard accused him of ruining the industry by giving away all their secrets! It’s Chase’s “rising tide floats all boats” ideaology that inspired me to start sharing what I have learnt with the world.
He even stages what can only be described as his own monthly live chat show on which he sits down with a variety of inspiring creative people. Add a few past episode to your YouTube watch later list, you can’t fail to be motivated. Chase is also the co-founder of CreativeLIVE, an incredible training resource with a unique business model that lets you watch every course, live, as it’s being filmed for free. Being able to ask some of the names in this list questions via Twitter and get a live response for free is well… priceless!
On top of everything he gives back to the community, Chase is an amazing photographer, a hugely likeable chap and walking proof that being different, not just incrementally better gets you places.
It was David that made me realise you could use lighting to lift your photography in any circumstances, not just pre-planned location shoots or studio work. Through his blog and DVD’s he made me see that with a combination of knowledge and using the right gear you can apply light in any situation.
At the time it was harder to source the right gear in the UK but eventually, and with some help from MPEX, I was about source what I needed: Two Manfrotto Nano 001B folding light stands and a pair of Westcott 43″ double fold umbrellas. With the addition of a strap and a ball bungy, you have all you need to fly an umbrella in seconds in a package you can throw over your shoulder and carry anywhere. Just add your flash.
As as case in point, let’s take the Autosport International show at Birmingham’s NEC. You never know what opportunities will arise, it’s busy, and the lighting in the exhibition halls is nothing short of horrific. The perfect place for a bit of nimble off camera lighting!
So here’s Faye, working for a client of mine at ASI2013, lit with my Strobist kit.
What we have here is a single Canon flash in manual mode, being triggered by a simple radio trigger. No ETTL cleverness here, I like to keep it simple.
So step one is to get a base exposure and there no science here. My camera was already at ISO640 so I left it there, shutter speed is 1/160th, just below my camera’s max sync speed and aperture is f8 to tame the horrible ambient light. Shutter speed was my only hard limit here – I could have traded ISO and aperture a little but f8 was a save depth of field and there’s no noise at ISO640 on the 5DMkIII.
Next up was flash power and the way I set this is even more low tech. I put my hand where my subject will be and take a shot. I have hundreds of photos of the back of my hand in various locations now. There’s a gallery show in it one day, I’m sure.
If it’s over exposed I drop flash power, under I raise it. That’s it. With enough practise you can get it dialied in with 2 or 3 tries. I think in this case I was at 1/8th power.
Now you have the camera and flash settings locked in, as long as you keep the flash the same distance from your subject, you can move around as much as you like.
Here’s a wider view to show the position of the flash. If you look towards the rear of the Lamborghini Aventador, where my flash isn’t lighting it, you can see just how yellow the ambient light was.
And a couple more :
And to wrap up the post, a little BTS video to give you a better idea of just what was going on.
Ever heard someone else, or even yourself, using any of these excuses?
“It’s easy to take a photo when you have the latest camera and speedlights”
“If I had all the gear he had, I could take photos as good as him”
“Once I get that new *insert gadget here* I’ll start taking better shots”
Well slap that person round the back of the head, even if it was you, because quite frankly, that’s crap.
A good photographer can take a better photo with bad gear than a bad photographer can take with the best gear available.
If you are waiting until you can buy the latest and greatest camera body, or that new lens before you start pushing yourself, that day will never come. There will always be that next thing you tell yourself you need before you can become better. It’s a crutch and you don’t need it. Waiting for something to happen or making excuses won’t make you a better photographer – taking photographs will.
I think we are all guilty of hiding to some degree, myself included, so don’t let yourself hide anymore and stop making those excuses.
Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.
And to underline my point, here’s the Strobist, making stand out images with a Buzz Lightyear novelty camera and a cheap knock off flash!
Ash Manton’s Type R Civic has been part of the UK modified car scene for several seasons and keeps coming back with a fresh look each year. It’s current stripped out, carbon clad, airbrushed look has just won it the cover feature in Max Power.
As it’s had the Max photo shoot treatment, I wanted to try something different. Enter Georgia Graham, Ash’s girlfriend, showing that hell really does hath no fury like a woman scorned!
The plan here was to go for a dark and moody look so out came the Quadras again to enable me to stop down far enough at my max sync speed to take the daylight – f/9 at 1/200th did the job. One bare, CTO gelled strobe was positioned camera left adding a rim light to both Georgia and the car to separate them from the dark background and a second strobe, in a 70cm Deep Octa in “beauty dish mode”, as the main light.
I wasn’t lucky enough to have any secluded barns to shoot in this time so it was a case of making the best of a bad lot. And at car shows, it’s a very bad lot – even when your subjects are the Sextons Direct / Ripraw girls!
You’ve got cluttered backgrounds, harsh mid afternoon light and crowds.
First of all, I toured Santa Pod looking for a location without people, cars or fairground rides lurking in the background. Luckily Santa Pod is out in the middle of the Northamptonshire countryside and backs onto some open fields and I was able to find this on the edge of the showground.
I chose this partly for the view but also as facing in the this direction the sun was be coming from behind the subjects – about 2 o’clock from this view. This way, the girls weren’t squinting into the bright light and I’d be able to add my own soft, diffused light from camera left.
Which leads nicely onto Problem Number 2 – the harsh sunlight. As it was coming from over the left shoulders of the girls it served as a nice separation light which, if I under exposed the background slightly, would make them really ‘pop’. But that would also leave faces in shadow, so out came the lighting.
Working in manual mode, I set my 5D MkII to sync at it’s max sync speed (1/200th) but in order to get some detail in the bright sky I was having to shoot at f/10 which meant needing to drive the flashes hard. So hard in fact that in order to keep a decent recycle time I had to gang 3 SB-28 at 1/2 power though a single shoot through umbrella. Think Joe McNally‘s speedlight tree on a budget!
With lights and locations sorted, it was time to bring on the car and the girls. This always draws an instant crowd at car shows but due to the location, apart from a few passing cars, the onlookers were behind the camera.
And onto the results. Well worth a bit of location scouting and 5 minutes of set-up I think.
Big thanks to Chris for the loan of the car and of course for the girls for doing their thing in front of my camera.