Photography FAQ #5

Nikon 35mm f/1.8G DX

In this fifth issue of the Photography FAQ series, I will answer some of the interesting questions from our readers that I thought would be beneficial for others. Big thanks to our readers for continuously sending questions to us and participating in the comments section of our blog. We truly value your feedback and we do our best to respond to your queries as soon as we can.

  1. How can I get sharp images of moving people?
    Use a faster shutter speed! If you do not understand the relationship of motion blur to shutter speed, check out my “understanding shutter speed” article, where I explain what shutter speed does and how you can freeze motion.
  2. Is it worth buying UV/protection filters for Nikon 35mm f/1.8G and Nikon 50mm f/1.4G lenses? Isn’t using a lens hood good enough to protect the front lens?
    I would definitely recommend to buy UV filters for both lenses, for one simple reason – it is easier to clean these lenses with filters! If you look at the front part of both lenses, you will see that these lenses have “layers” or threads of black plastic around the front lens element:

    Nikon 35mm f/1.8G DX

    Nikon 35mm f/1.8G DX

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Indoor portraits with a Christmas tree in the background

Ambient Light Only

If you have been in a situation where you had a Christmas tree behind your subject and you could not take a good portrait, correctly exposing both the subject and the Christmas tree, then don’t be surprised – you are not the only person having such challenges. Many photographers have a tough time with correctly exposing images indoors, especially when dealing with a very dim room with bright objects in the background. That’s the biggest problem with photographing the Christmas tree – most people like to turn off or dim their main lights and only keep the Christmas tree lights on. With such a low amount of light in the room, all kinds of problems arise for photographers: images come out blurry, portraits are too dark or images have a flat, point and shoot look to them when photographed with a flash. The biggest annoyance and frustration, is when flash lights up the room and makes the Christmas tree lights disappear, as if they are not even on! What is the best way to deal with these problems? How should you take pictures with the Christmas tree? In this article, I will do my best to explain what you need to do to take great family photos during holidays.

1) Challenges with bright backgrounds indoors

When a room is dim, the only thing you can do without using flash is heavily increase your camera’s sensitivity (ISO). Increasing camera ISO, however, results in lots of noise in images and does not help with the problem of having a dark subject with a brightly-lit Christmas tree in the background. If you expose for the subject by setting your camera’s metering mode to “Spot/Partial Metering” and pointing the focus point at your subject, the Christmas tree will be overexposed. If you meter for the Chritmas tree, your subject will be too dark. Just like in these pictures:

Exposing for the light and the subject indoors

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How to Photograph a Lunar Eclipse

Total Lunar Eclipse of 2010

I intentionally waited on posting this article on how to photograph a lunar eclipse until it actually took place on 12/21/2010, because I wanted to document my experience and provide information on what challenges I had during the process of photographing this rare, but stunningly beautiful phenomenon. This was not my first time trying to photograph a lunar eclipse – I tried it once back in 2008, but the weather did not cooperate back then and I did not get any good pictures. My luck was much better this time and although the sky was not completely clear, I was still fortunate enough to capture the entire process, from full moon to total lunar eclipse, then back to full moon. The next lunar eclipse will occur in the summer of next year, so if you missed it this year, definitely try to get out and take some pictures, especially when the moon turns bloody red.

Total Lunar Eclipse of 2010

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Indoors Flash Photography – Off-Camera Flash

RadioPopper PX

I have already shown you how to take pictures with your pop-up flash and use it as a commander to trigger other remote units. A detailed Nikon Speedlight Comparison has also been posted for those who are looking into buying a flash. This time, I want to show you how you can create some amazing portraits indoors, using a Nikon Speedlight in an off-camera configuration with an umbrella.

1) Getting Started

No matter what flash system you are using, if you want to be able to take great portraits, you want to soften the light that comes out of your flash. Direct light creates harsh shadows, similar to how the sun does when you take a picture at noon. While I have already shown you how to soften the light by bouncing it off ceilings and walls, the light does not always look very natural due to its angle. In addition, bouncing the light off very large surfaces typically does not yield nice-looking catch lights in your subjects’ eyes. There are a couple of solutions to this problem, which require some investment and a little bit of extra effort.

One method I would like to talk about, is to use an umbrella on a dedicated stand to soften the light from your flash – a very inexpensive way to soften the light and instantly improve your images. Lola and I use this method a lot for some of our commercial photography and the results do not disappoint. Let’s talk about the gear you will need to accomplish this:

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Flash Photography Example: Hello Gorgeous!

Hello Gorgeous #15

Alright, since this week is dedicated to Flash Photography, I decided to post a series of photo shoots I worked on recently. It is always good to be able to use natural/ambient light if it is available. In a very low-light situation, especially if you are photographing moving subjects, it is nearly impossible to properly expose the set without having your moving subjects blurry. This particular shoot was done for the CRAVE Book, to highlight female entrepreneurs. “Hello Gorgeous” is the name of the mobile manicure and pedicure company, run by two amazing individuals – Hani and Kent.

I used my trusty Nikon D700, Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 for wide-angle shots, Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G for detail shots, two SB-900 Speedlights, three Pocket Wizard transmitters/receivers and just one 30-inch umbrella. Everything was shot in Manual mode to give me consistency and control over flashes and the entire process.

It was an on-location photo shoot and I was informed beforehand that the apartment would have glass and concrete walls all around. The only light available was the 3 chandeliers that you see in the first left image. I also had very little ambient light coming from the far kitchen, to the right of the chairs.

Hello Gorgeous #1

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Indoors Flash Photography with Nikon Speedlights

Whether you are shooting with an entry-level or a professional Nikon DSLR, speedlights are a great way to improve your indoors photography. While fast lenses and high ISO levels certainly help to take pictures in low-light environments, they often do not work well for photographing people indoors. In low-light situations, cameras have a tough time acquiring correct focus, motion often results in too much blur and bright backgrounds can ruin the subject’s face and emotions. Speedlights are versatile tools that are designed to overcome these problems and deliver sharp, blur-free and noise-free images with beautifully exposed subjects.

At the same time, without the right technique and tools, flash can quickly transform pictures into flat, lifeless images. Knowing how to bend the light and take advantage of the surrounding environment to manage it is a skill every photographer should master. In this introduction to indoors flash photography video, I will first quickly talk about the differences between Nikon speedlights, along with my recommendations. Then, I will do my best to explain differences between direct and indirect flash and how both affect indoors portraiture, using specific examples.

I highly recommend viewing the video in HD. You can do it by viewing the video in fullscreen mode, then picking “720p” on the bottom right corner.

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Flash for Nikon DSLRs

Flash bounced off ceiling

When it comes to choosing flash units for Nikon cameras, there are plenty of great choices available on the market – from cheap flashes with limited functionality for beginners, to advanced speedlights with complex features for demanding professionals. Choosing the right flash can be an overwhelming task for beginners, especially for those who are just getting into flash photography. In this article, I will go through different options (both low-budget and high-demand) that are available today and provide my recommendations.

1) Why you need an external flash

I remember when I purchased my first DSLR, I expected it to be a world better than my old point and shoot that I used for years. It certainly was much better when taking pictures on a sunny day outside, but not that great for taking pictures indoors with flash. To my disappointment, the images from my DSLR looked almost as flat as images from my point and shoot camera and I could not figure out if it was me doing something wrong or the camera that had limitations for taking pictures indoors. Next, I read about low-light photography and using on-camera pop-up flash and while my images did get a little better overtime, they still looked flat due to the harsh direct light. The shadows on my subjects looked even worse.

Indoors professional flash photography

Image captured with Nikon D3s and a single SB-900 Speedlight

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How to get the best out of your pop-up flash

Lola Fill Flash

If you are using an entry-level or a semi-professional DSLR, your camera most likely has a built-in pop-up flash unit that can be used to add some additional light on your subjects or even trigger another flash. The problem with built-in flashes, however, is that they fire harsh, direct light that does not look very good, especially on people. In this short article, I will show you how you can get the best out of your pop-up flash.

1) Diffuse or not to diffuse?

There are plenty of products on the market that let you diffuse the light coming out of your pop-up flash. I personally think that those products are worthless for the following reasons:

  1. Your pop-up flash is pretty weak as it is and you will lose plenty of light while trying to diffuse it.
  2. Redirecting the light from the pop-up flash is too difficult and often impossible.
  3. Why waste money on something that is not going to give you considerably better results than direct flash?

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Flash Photography Tips

This page is used for posting links to our articles on flash photography gear and various tips we have written on flash photography. As we post more articles in the future, this page will be updated frequently with more flash photography tips and other lighting-related articles to help our readers enhance their knowledge of flash photography and get the best out of their equipment.

Please see our subscription page in order to subscribe to our website via email or RSS.

Flash Photography Gear:

  1. How to Build an Affordable Photo Studio
  2. Flash for Nikon DSLR cameras
  3. Nikon Flash Comparison
  4. Infrared vs Radio vs Hybrid Flash

Flash Photography Tips:

  1. When to Use Flash
  2. How to get the best out of your pop-up flash
  3. Nikon Commander Mode
  4. Indoors Flash Photography with Nikon Speedlights
  5. Indoors Flash Photography – Off-camera Flash
  6. How to take indoor portraits with a Christmas tree in the background

Case Study: Exposure at Night

Case Study Crop

One of our readers, Steven Ross, was kind enough to send an image to me as a Case Study. He is wondering why his image did not come out sharp, with some light spill and overexposure. Here is what he sent me:

Case Study

San Jacinto Monument at night

And his comments:

I used the camera on aperture priority mode and on a tripod but it appears that since the monument was being lit by spotlights the shutter speed was too long and the monument seems much brighter/overexposed compared to the rest of the scene.

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