Tutorial: When to Use Constant Lighting vs. Flash

Knowing when to shoot with constant light vs. flash is one of the most important lessons to learn if you’re keen on doing studio photography

When you’re shooting in a studio, you’re typically also working with different lighting equipment which is often either constant light or flash. The key to making great shots in the studio is knowing when it’s best to use one over the other. Learn how the pros do it in an in-depth lesson from Adorama TV‘s On Set with Daniel Norton.

Continue reading…

Three Cheap Options to Achieve Beautiful Diffused Light

Setting up a studio? You’ll definitely need some diffusers, but there’s no need to break the bank to get beautiful diffused light.

Whether you’re doing portrait photography or YouTube videos, good lighting is the first and most important element you should set up in a studio. The most straightforward way to this is to get a softbox for diffused light. But, if you don’t have the budget for advanced and expensive pro equipment yet, there are some affordable options you can use to start with.

Continue reading…

Building and Using a Portable Photo Studio for Under $750

Every semi-professional photographer dreams of trying to create their own photo studio. What many photographers don’t realize is that with some very thrifty items, you can get the same results as significantly more expensive products as long as you’ve just got the knowledge of how to use them. There are a number of tutorials online that teach photographers how to build a portable photo studio, but not a whole lot that teach you how to use it and how to build one for a pretty affordable price point. Even less tell you what to do with the gear once you’ve got it.

We’re going to get you started from the ground up.

So many people dislike themselves so thoroughly that they never see any reproduction of themselves that suits. None of us is born with the right face. It’s a tough job being a portrait photographer. – Imogen Cunningham

Your Photographic Identity in Studio Portraiture: Answer These Questions

When you’re first starting out creating your own portable photo studio, it’s easy for you to just set it up and take photos. But you should ideally look more long term than that. If you want to do studio portraiture, then there’s obviously a reason for that and part of this has to do with connecting the technical with the artistic side of your brain. They’ll need to communicate with one another. So let’s start out by answering these questions:

  • Who are you as a photographer?
  • What studio portrait photographers do you admire?
  • Do they actually shoot in a studio or on location?
  • Do they bring studio gear onto a location to shoot?
  • What about their creative style and look do you admire?
  • What do these photographers use to get the looks that they do?
  • What do the photographers do with the models and subjects to get their looks?
  • Do you feasibly have the time to do this type of work?
  • Where will you mostly be shooting?
  • What methods do these photographers use to get the style that they do?
  • Why do you want to be a studio portrait photographer?
  • What do you feel you’re going to do for a client or subject that is different?
  • What do you feel you’re going to do that’s different in the art world?

Now as you’re answering these questions, carefully listen to yourself and be honest. Then think about what the needs are for the type of photographer you’re trying to be. This is part of your photographic identity. You’ll easily start to figure out whether you should be a natural light shooter, a flash shooter, a location shooter, a stagnant background shooter, etc.

The Gear

So now we get to the gear. This gear is really simple to work with and so incredibly versatile that you can go from working with it in a household one second or an on-location area for the next.

Godox Li-on Series of Flashes and Transmitters: The reason why we adore the Godox Li-On series of flashes and transmitters are because they’re affordable, fairly durable, powerful and simple to use. If a piece breaks, you can easily replace the unit. These flashes come with TTL capabilities for Sony, Canon and Nikon. But my personal favorite is the all manual version. These lights have a very fast flash duration, so they’re very capable of overpowering a lot of ambient light in most situations. Plus, they’re portable; and as the main piece of equipment that you’re going to need they’ll be a mainstay for you.

I also sometimes use this flash with ExpoImaging’s Gels.

Pro Tip: Use the wide angle diffuser to spread the light over a larger area. The larger the light source is, the softer it can be.

Roundflash dish: Roundflash is the manufacturer of a number of fantastic light modifiers. Their first is the roundflash itself which takes existing light from a flash and makes it work like a ring flash. The second and ultimately more versatile option is the dish. This is a collapsible beauty dish that outputs some very beautiful light. But it’s small and so is perhaps mostly ideal for photos shot from a person’s upper thigh and above.

Its small size means that it’s portable.

Pro Tip: Beauty dishes are sort of like softboxes but deliver an arguably better look.

Neewer Backdrop Kit: This kit is sturdy enough for most uses and transportation–plus it’s affordable. It includes stands and rods that you put together simply by screwing them in at the right spots. You get a ton of them too.

Backdrops: White and black backdrops are really all you need most of the time. But if you need something with more punch, then you’re sometimes best off making your own unless you go for Oliphant.

There is no single form or style of portraiture. Portraiture means individualism and as such means diversity, self-expression, private point of view. The most successful images seem to be those which exist on several planes at once and which reflect the fantasy and understanding of many. – Peter Bunnell

Westcott light stand: This stand works well enough to hold your flash with the collapsible beauty dish on it. But it can also be used to hold a reflector. With the reflector in the transparent configuration, you can fire the flash through it to give off the same look that a softbox does.

Making the Most of Your Photo Studio

So now that you’ve got all this gear, what do you do with it? Well, here are some ideas. All of the photos in this article were done with the gear we’ve been talking about:

  • Use the Godox flash placed off on some sort of higher surface and have it fire down onto your subject. Most lights that we see are naturally above us and human beings. So light sources that come from the side and above are simply more pleasing to us.
  • The Godox flash can deliver pretty soft and nice lighting when used bare with its wide angle diffuser. You can bounce the light off of a surface but keep in mind that the flash output is going to take on the color of that wall or surface.
  • The Roundflash Dish collapses down in the same way that a photographic reflector does. Then you can simply store it in a pocket of your camera bag.
  • The Roundflash dish is best used arguably with tighter frames. But if you’re a fan of hard lighting, then try that. Hard lighting typically works best with thinner body profiles though but that doesn’t mean that it can’t work with larger ones.
  • Are your backdrops all crumply? If you don’t have the time to steam the wrinkles out then consider just not stretching them out on the stand. Instead, make them tighter and sort of like a stage curtain. That will help hide the wrinkles.
  • Killing all the ambient light that you can is a priority most of the time when using backdrops. Personally, I try to do the same thing even without them.
  • Never, ever, underestimate what a reflector can do. You essentially have three light modifiers with this kit: the wide angle diffuser, the Beauty dish and the reflector. The reflector can either bounce light back into the subject, be used as a panel to bounce the light directly off of, or be used in a shoot through configuration where the light is diffused with the massive surface area of the reflector.

Review: Sony a7r III (The Camera So Many of Us Have Been Waiting For)

The Sony a7r III is one of the most perfect Sony cameras to date.

I used to borrow a joke from my buddy David Schloss that Sony got things 80% right 100% of the time; but with the new Sony a7r III I genuinely feel like they’ve done a significantly better job than that. Based on just the specs alone, I had to buy the Sony a7r III from Adorama. When the camera actually got into my hands, I was even more amazed at how great it is. Sony’s cameras have been continually improved over and over again and for the first time, a studio photographer has access to almost everything that they could possibly need with a Sony mirrorless camera. Not only do to have a fantastic 42MP full frame sensor with 15 stops of dynamic range at lower ISO settings, but you’ve got pretty decent autofocus performance, WiFi, weather sealing, better battery life, and that joystick that we’ve been begging for for years now. When you combine this with the fantastic support from Profoto, Godox, and Flashpoint amongst others in the flash system world, then you’ve got a genuinely complete system with a massive selection of lenses.

Continue reading…

Review: Rokinon 85mm f1.2 SP (Canon EF Mount)

Relatively speaking, I’m sort of over the idea of super fast aperture lenses simply because most folks won’t be able to tell the difference with the photos–and that’s the case with the Rokinon 85mm f1.2 SP lens. But at the same time, I can’t argue with the fact that it’s quite a mystical marketing technique combined with the fact that so many lenses are really fantastic. Don’t get me wrong, if you’re shooting with an APS-C sensor camera then having super fast glass makes sense. But for full frame cameras, it doesn’t really matter. Most people can’t tell the difference between f1.2 and f1.4. Plus high ISO output these days is so crazy good that you arguably don’t need the extra stop. 

Continue reading…

The Professional Photographer’s Introduction to Wireless Flash for Amateurs

Like many photographers, I worked for a time as an assistant in a studio, where one of my most important tasks was to follow behind (or in front of, or beside) the photographer and make sure they didn’t trip over their PC cable, thereby unplugging the lights while simultaneously falling unceremoniously on their face.

A remnant of the same era where telephone operators manually plugged cables into long rows of connectors to complete a call, the PC connector is a long cord that attaches between the camera and a flash or strobe setup. The PC has always been a problematic solution. On one side is usually found a connector that’s the same as a 3.5mm headphone mini-connector, while on the other side is a coaxial cable comprised of an inner cable wrapped in a thin circular metal housing. The circular coaxial end of the cable plugs into a camera’s PC port, and the 3.5mm cable plugs into a lighting pack. Multiple packs could be strung together by a series of cables, and photographers needing a lot of space between themselves and their packs would often combine multiple extenders and drag the cables behind them.

Continue reading…

These Custom Hand Painted Backdrops are Great Additions to Your Studio

All images by Kate Woodman via CustomCanvasBackdrop on Etsy

If you’re setting up your dream studio, I’m sure you’ll need a variety of backdrops for product and portrait work. While you’re most likely planning to head to a nearby photo supply store to check some swatches, you might also want to have at least one of the custom hand painted backdrops made by Kate Woodman in your collection.

Continue reading…

Which Ilford Film is Best for Portraiture? An Analysis

Lead photo by Savara (deprecated)

While many photographers will say that Kodak Portra 400 is the king of color portraiture in the analog photography world, the equivalent black and white film is not really as clear. There’s great options all around. Kodak T-Max 400 is designed to deliver the sharpest images possible. Fujifilm Acros 100 in 120 format can deliver some absolutely beautiful images in a studio. But with Ilford, they’ve got a number of options when it comes to portraiture. The company quite literally specializes in black and white film and for that reason they offer a multitude of products for a multitude of applications. Though if we were to narrow it down to only three films that you should have on you, they would be these three.

What Portrait Photographers Need

Three you say, Chris? Yes. Three. If you wanted something a bit faster I’d say Ilford Delta 400 but I expect a lot of photographers subscribing to La Noir Image to do things in a fashion that I love to call “proper photography.” That means that you’re probably in a studio or a studio like setting where you’ve got at least some control of the light. You’re a creative photographer when you shoot portraits, not a photographer who captures scenes. So you’re directing a scene, placing lights, etc. You’re going for the maximum in details and clarity in the photo. Upon writing this post, I’ve recently acquired a large format Graflex camera; and since I’m aware that many of you have used large format or do portraiture in studio-like settings, I want to help you all navigate the Ilford film world.

Ilford Delta 100

Image by Tim Williams

So why am I picking Delta 100? That’s a great question: It has a medium level of contrast but balances out the contrast with the sharpness and fine details. My assumption is that most readers here will be using it in 120 format and so I recommend good, longer lenses to really take advantage of not only this film’s sharpness, but what medium format really affords you. For example, a Pentax 165mm f2.8 lens is going to have some seriously shallow depth of field while being incredibly sharp. Lenses like that help portrait photographers really take advantage of even the worst of films. Even if you’re shooting 35mm, using newer lenses will mean that you’ll get a whole lot of details in the images that you’re shooting but not enough to make the photos look very digital in their rendition.

Luckily, Ilford states that it can rated at ISO 100 or ISO 200 in addition to ISO 100.

Ilford Pan F Plus 50

Image by Jay DeFehr

Ilford’s slowest film is bound to be on this list simply because of the fact that it also yields the most details in the photos overall. The company recommends using it in either bright natural light or in a studio where you’ve got a whole lot of watt seconds to kill using this slow film. Ilford Pan F Plus 50 also has high edge contrast–which increases the perceived sharpness in the scene overall. For that reason, they recommend it for really big prints. The way that I like to think about Ilford Pan F Plus 50 is like sort of like you’re shooting chrome/slide color film. You really want to nail the exposure and get it right. In fact, that’s how I shoot digital these days. Plus, I shoot film because sometimes I just don’t want to sit down at a computer and edit photos. If I wanted to do that, I’d do digital photography because it’s so incredibly simple and accessible. But with Pan F Plus 50, you should put high expectations on yourself to get your images and your exposures perfectly right. Use a light meter to spot meter various parts of the scene and figure out a great middle ground.

Again, this is why I state that this is a creator’s film.

Ilford FP4 Plus

Image by theUdødelig

Ilford FP4 Plus has to be one of my favorite medium format black and white films. Why? Well, it’s quite special in that you can meter slightly for the highlights and still get really good details in the shadows no matter what. If you put it up against many other films out there, you’ll see that it has a great contrast in its look. But the fact that it still brings out even more details in the shadows means that you can be a photographer that shoots really high contrast and still gets something in the shadows. This film is also at ISO 125–which a curious one. But this low ISO helps the film deliver a lot of detail while also delivering very low grain. Of any of the films on this list, it reminds me of one of my old favorites: Kodak 400 BW CN. I’m very sure that not a lot of photographers loved the look of that film, but I genuinely did. I used it for portraiture and street photography in a Leica camera.

As with every other film on this list, I really recommend using it in a studio setting or in a location where you’ve got a lot of control over the light to take advantage of what it’s capable of doing. If you’ve got an Oliphant backdrop with an interesting texture, this film is bound to do some crazy cool things.