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.
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:
Technically, the article is supposed to be called “Nikon Speedlight Comparison”, because Nikon calls their flash units “Speedlights”. This article is written as an introduction to the current line of Nikon Speedlights, specifically the Nikon SB-400, SB-600, SB-700, SB-800 (discontinued), SB-900 (discontinued) and SB-910. In addition to some basic information on each Speedlight, I will provide a comparison chart on the bottom of this article as well, to make it simpler for our readers to understand the differences.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Your pop-up flash is pretty weak as it is and you will lose plenty of light while trying to diffuse it.
- Redirecting the light from the pop-up flash is too difficult and often impossible.
- Why waste money on something that is not going to give you considerably better results than direct flash?
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.
Flash Photography Gear:
- How to Build an Affordable Photo Studio
- Flash for Nikon DSLR cameras
- Nikon Flash Comparison
- Infrared vs Radio vs Hybrid Flash
Flash Photography Tips:
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:
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.
I have been planning to write this landscape photography guide for a long time, but held it off for a while, thinking that I could do a better job after learning about it more. My landscape photography journey has been a big learning curve and I have been enhancing my skills so much during the last few years, I realized that I could spend the rest of my life learning. Therefore, I decided to write what I know today and keep on enhancing this guide in the future with new techniques and tips.
It is amazing to see how quickly the world is changing around us. What seemed to be intact and perfect just several years ago is getting destroyed by us humans. One of the reasons why I fell in love with photographing nature, is because it is not only my way of connecting with nature, but also my way of showing people that the beauty around us is very fragile and volatile. And if we don’t take any action now, all this beauty will someday cease to exist, not giving a chance for our future generations to enjoy it the same way we can today. Hundreds of movies have been filmed, thousands and thousands of great pictures taken and yet the world is not listening. What can we do and is there hope? It is very unfortunate that we only act when a disaster of a great scale hits us and the unbalanced force of nature enrages upon us. But we as photographers must continue to show the world the real picture out there – the deforestation of our rich lands, the pollution that is poisoning our fresh waters and causing widespread diseases, the melting of glaciers, the extinction of species and many other large-scale problems that are affecting the lives of millions of people and animals around the world. Therefore, it is our responsibility as photographers to show the real picture.
2) Introduction to Landscape Photography
Landscape photography is a form of landscape art. While landscape art was popularized by Western painting and Chinese art more than a thousand years ago, the word “landscape” apparently entered the English dictionary only in the 19th century, purely as a term for works of art (according to Wikipedia). Landscape photography conveys the appreciation of the world through beautiful imagery of the nature that can be comprised of mountains, deserts, rivers, oceans, waterfalls, plants, animals and other God-made scenery or life. While most landscape photographers strive to show the pureness of nature without any human influence, given how much of the world has been changed by humans, depicting the nature together with man-made objects can also be considered a form of landscape photography. For example, the famous Mormon Row at the Grand Teton National Park has been a popular spot for photographing the beautiful Tetons in the background, with the old barns serving as foreground elements.