Monday, June 29, 2009

The fine art of a Ring Light

So a few months back, I had the opportunity to borrow a Ray Flash from the Red Raven rep, who is now the distributor in Canada for them, (Being a Kerrisdale Cameras employee does have it's perks...) since then I have purchased the Ray Flash, after having such a good success with it.

After some moderate testing with it, I felt comfortable enough to use it more often; but in doing so, I have learned its strengths and weaknesses, and today I am going to share those with you.

First off, a Ring Flash is something that many of the fashion magazines have used for many years. Ever looked at a cover of GQ or Voque and wondered how they lit that model... there is a very good chance that they used a Ring Flash. It creates a very hard light, but focused centrally, and it falls off on the edges, creating a natural vignette to the image, and if you are close enough to your subject, you create a nice donut shape highlight in their eye, but an almost shadowless image on the main subject. Even if you are using a telephoto lens, it helps create a striking shadowless subject...

Now a studio sized Ring Flash is very big, very heavy and VERY powerful... like 800 watts per second each (or w/s) or more; but with great power... comes no Through The Lens metering. So you have all the power in the world to combat existing lighting and supersede it with your own, but you have to meter it yourself with a handheld meter or read the histogram. I have used the AlienBee ABR-800 before, and it is very powerful, and does the job very well, but sometimes I don't want to shoot at F16 @ ISO 100; I like that shallow Depth of Field (DoF) to my pictures, with or without flash. Most of the main Strobe manufactures make a Ring Flash for their systems, all of them require a portable battery powerpack or a wall socket.

The Ray Flash is designed to fit right onto your existing TTL Flash, they make them for the Nikon SB800 & SB900 and the Canon 580EX II, and they are fairly specific on the size of camera they fit; so be sure to get the right one to fit your equipment if you do order one. But the power you get out of a Hotshoe mounted flash tends to be about 85w/s (give or take, depending on the model of flash), so as you can see, there is quite a significant drop in power. But do we need all that power we are missing?

And the answer is: sometimes... but most of the time, I have been working very well with the power of the hotshoe flash for some time now, and in that time, I rarely say I need a LOT more power; and the few times I do need just a little more juice, I add in 2-4 more flashes. 3-Vivitar 285HV's in a single umbrella is all the power I have needed when the push really comes to shove.

So, this little attachment that sits on my flash, by sliding into place, and locking down with a 1/4 turn of the dial on top; the fibre optic channels (I think that is what they are) send the light down and around the lens. Now.. one thing I have noted here, is that while still fairly light-weight, weighing in at only 16 oz, it does weigh enough to tilt the head of my SB800 and my SB80DX on a slight down angle; creating it not to sit quite level on the lens axis. So to combat this, I cut one of the little silicone stoppers (the ones you put on your cupboard doors to prevent them from slamming) in half, and placed half on each side where it meets the flash to raise it to prevent it from that odd angle. This has successfully fixed that issue for me, it is cheap, easy to do and I keep a sheet of them in my Pelican case with me where ever I go.

With this set up, I have shot many subjects, from the cat to many people... I hadn't come across a single problem with it, until I photographed a couple of young ladies, with ice blue eyes... and then came the red-eye, photo after photo. I mean the CAT didn't even get that silver glow to their eyes when you use a flash on them in a photo look to her, and she was only 10 inches away when I took that image. *seen here* This has been the one time that I found a problem with it. Sadly that was a paid job, and I spent some time fixing that error in post after the fact. It was a hard lesson to learn, but I am glad I found that issue... no other eye colour has caused me the grief that the ice blue eyes have; not even a darker blue.
I have found that the Ray Flash does take away some of your lighting power, so I have been giving the flash a +1 Flash Compensation to give it that little bit of oomph that it lacks without that setting, cause the image comes out a tad dark on the subject. *Seen here* I have been shooting in Shutter or Aperture priority and letting the camera figure the other one, while I concentrate on my speed or DoF, but it has usually been my DoF.
In all I give the Ray Flash attachment a 9.5 out of 10 for build, ease of use and image quality.
If you want to view more of my Ray Flash images you can view them here, and that set will continue to grow as I take more images with it.
And a special thanks to David M from Red Raven for the loan of the Ray Flash and the Honl gear, it was enough of a tease to make me buy it all.
Cheers and good shooting
John R
Kerrisdale Cameras

Friday, June 12, 2009

Trash the Dress (or not)

June 6, 2009 the Tri-City Photography Club, went to an old factory in Coquitlam on Christmas Way, for a 'Trash the Dress' photo shoot. We had a lovely model: Brittney Wright, and a great make up & hair artist: Kelly Kloeble. ( Kelly's MM )

We got off to a start a little later than I would have liked, but hey... when working in the real world, you have no idea how many times the Bride has not gotten out of the hair and make up session on time. Kelly told me it would take an hour and a half... she took an hour and a half. So I can't fault her.

Got to see some decent some decent images taken from that day, on the Monday night club meeting. But I have to give props to Alana (see the above image), for using just her little Canon G9, and as far as my understanding hasn't used flashes like we were using all that much before; she got some great images.

I look forward to seeing more images come in from the shoot, so are both Brittney and Kelly.



Wednesday, June 10, 2009


They are all doing it... the masses have spoken... the people want it! And the big hitters are doing it, and all the others will be following for sure shortly, they have no choice.

At first I said I didn't want it, and that I would never do it... but after some thinking, I changed my mind, I do want it... I would totally do it!

I'm talking about High-Definition Video from a D-SLR! It's the way of the future... or is it!?!

Nikon was the first on the block, with the D90 with a 780p (24fps) mode built in, and Canon with the 5D mk II with 1080p (30fps) mode, a few days later; Panasonic and Pentax have both announced their bodies with High-Def video after that.

RedrockMicro has even come up with some accessories that the pro-vid crowd use for these bodies. I mean how cool is that, a custom Fig-Rig or a focus puller for a D-SLR.

Hell, Vincent LaForet showed us the quality of video that the Canon is capable of; and I have to admit... it blew me away.

So why would we, the average consumer want a Digital Single Lens Reflex camera, to have High-Definition video built into our cameras?!? Wouldn't a proper video camera do us much better, and leave the still picture taking to the D-SLR's? Let me explain. 

When I first heard that Nikon had the D90 coming out, with the HD Video built in... I really thought that Nikon had lost their rocker and that they were way out in the nuts right next to Charlie Manson. And then a few days later, Canon leaked out that the 5D mk II was on the horizon, and I started to think that it was Armageddon coming. (and no... not the movie with that horrible Areosmith song)

But then I started to think about my business, as you all know, I am a Wedding photographer; and I have had some requests for Video during the Weddings I shoot. I already have an assistant... so would it not make sense for me to have her take some Video of the Vows, the First Dance... anywhere else that there is a cute moment. I have the lenses already, and most of them with a nice wide aperture, to give that shallow DoF that we all love.

How sweet of a short clip would it be, to use the 80-200mm F2.8 or the 300mm F4, wide open just as the couple kisses, that creamy dreamy background blur that I know and love from many of my lenses. I get goosebumps just thinking of a video taken with my 105mm F2 DC. *Sigh*

Anyway... so after I admitted that I would use the video for my business, I asked myself, if I would use it for other things other than a wedding. And I came up with tons of little things that I wouldn't mind having a short video of, my daughters band concerts, behind the scenes of photo shoots... etc; and I am more than certain that if you started to think about it... that you could come up with some too.

So instead of having 2 devices to carry around, on a vacation, at a paid gig… whatever the case might be, having it all into a single device is some kind of genius. You have 1 less device to carry, 1 less charger to carry, which equals out to more space in the bag and also no different type of battery to carry with you. If your D-SLR is your video camera at the same time, you only have to carry spares of its battery, and not any other type.

With the sensor size of the 5D mk II or the D90, being much bigger than those used in even the high end High-Def camcorders, you can get much more shallow depth of field, especially when used with a nice bright prime or zoom. 

Now... one question does come to mind, with the sensor being charged more often, and for longer times... would it be more prone to sensor dust? It might, but all the manufactures have worked hard on finding ways to get their sensors less attractive to dust. Some even have sensor cleaners built in. So overall, I do not think that it is that much of an issue... and if it is, then the good ol'friend the AcrticButterfly comes out to play. 

Now going back the whole 24p or 30p thing, what difference does it make to you and why would you want one over the other. 24p (24 frames per second) is more like what the big movie cameras use, and give you that movie theater feel to the final clip, 30p (30 frames per second) is what most of the small cameras have set as their default video capture, and for many years.... even what most news broadcast cameras were set at. This is why for years I have looked at TV, and wondered why they have a much different look to their video feeds, versus a movie.... its rougher, and has a contrasty look to them (IMHO). 

So for the most part, the 24p is the way to go if you want to make that Lord of the Rings film feel and look to your videos. 

Do you need to learn a whole new set of programs?!? YUP! You'll need to learn iMovie HD or Adobe Premier, or their high end equivalents. 
Is it going to be easy? More than likely not. While the basics of video are not all that different from still capture, there is a bit of an art to it it seems. The biggest thing I have found, is how fast your movie clip can go from good to bad, by just hand holding it. My advice, put it on a tripod! 
In the end of it all, is it going to be fun? Hell'z Ya!

I will be investing in a D-SLR camera sometime in the near future, that has video capture build in.... I'll tell you more about it then. But from my short time that I used a Nikon D90 that was lent to me by Nikon, I loved it, and plan to use it a whole lot more when I do get one. 

Until next time... good shooting, and see you all on Saturday.