How to Visualize Photography Lighting Setups in Blender

Neat idea – quick reference card with different lighting angles.

Portrait Lighting Cheat Sheet

Here’s the same idea done with Blender 3D modeling software instead of real photos.

PreviouslyEffect of Lens Focal Length on Portraits

Flash photography and the inverse square law

bounce flash photography & the inverse square law – Neil vN tangents.

Good stuff. The Mark Wallace video he links is even better:

I understood the basic concept and I still learned a lot. I didn’t appreciate how quickly in percentage terms flash falls off with distance, how quickly the fall-off flattens out, or how to take advantage of the fall-off to get evenly-lit group photos. That’s good instructin’.

Dan Winter’s portrait photography

Strobist linked to Dan Winter’s portrait work. It’s good stuff. I like the style he uses below, where there’s just a patch of light hitting part of the person’s face.

P.S. Someone remind me who that actor is. I keep trying to picture him clean-shaven and it’s driving me bonkers.

Notes from Patrick Murphy-Racey’s Photography Lighting Workshop

I was cleaning out some files this weekend and ran across my notes from this 2010 workshop at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Light Modifiers

  • If you have $2,000 to spend on lighting he recommends spending half on lights and half on light modifiers.
  • An umbrella is the cheapest way to get a big light source from a small one. (I bought my first one this year for a whopping $25 and it’s pretty great.) It has a hot spot in the middle that fades towards the edge.
  • He doesn’t use any umbrellas per se. He prefers a design like the Octoplus that’s a very large umbrella with a softbox-style diffusion panel to create a more even exposure.
  • He demonstrated a long, narrow lightstrip for photographing a model he brought to the class who was a quite a tall drink of water. It was just the thing for creating a sense of directionality to the light.

Remote Flash Triggers

  • He’s a huge fan of PocketWizards for remote flash triggering.
  • One example was a shot he took of a CEO in his skyscraper office looking out the window. Patrick took the picture from a skyscraper across the street using a telephoto lens. He used a PocketWizard to trigger the flash inside the CEO’s office. Want.

Other Notes

  • He likes the soft character of Fresnel lenses (pronounced “frennel”) on monolights.
  • Sunlight and HMI are 5500 degrees Kelvin color temperature.
  • Murphy’s class finally got through my head the relationship between aperture control of the flash exposure and shutter control of ambient light exposure. I was familiar with the concept in the sense that I could pick the right answer on a multiple choice test, but he made it real for me in a way that no one else had. After taking his workshop I could recognize flash/ambient light issues in my photos and adjust the aperture and shutter speed to solve them. That’s good teachin’.

High Speed Photography Gear

High Speed Photography of a Balloon Popping

"This picture captures the instant after a balloon is popped with a pin. Three Fotronix flash heads were used to illuminate the scene when a microphone triggered the Time Machine. The camera used was a Canon 10D. The balloon was filled two teaspoons of water. This picture was taken by Ted Kinsman."

Found some cool stuff for doing high speed photography from this article on paint sculpture photography.

Basic idea behind high speed photography: Set up everything in the dark. Open your camera’s shutter. Since it’s dark it won’t record anything. Then fire a flash. The duration of electronic flash is many, many times shorter than the fastest mechanical shutter can move and without the half second or so shutter delay typical of even high end cameras, so you can capture extremely events of extremely short duration.

The Time Machine appears to be the most tricked-out option, with optional triggers for sound, motion, and ballistics. It’s also an intervalometer for shooting time lapse and even periodic panoramas on a motion table. Kinda pricey, though.

The Hiviz stuff isn’t as all-encompassing, but it’s cheaper. It sounds like you’ll need some electrical circuit knowledge for some of their stuff.

The Stopshot is like the Time Machine, but more modern, with an LCD interface.

Gracious, photography is ridiculously equipment-intensive. My B&H Photo Video wishlist keeps getting longer and longer. I don’t have the need or the time to get into high speed photography so I’ll keep this stuff off the list, but it is interesting to see what can be done.

Strobist’s Picks for Soft Light Modifiers

StrobistGear Basics: Choosing and Using Soft Light Modifiers

I ordered the Westcott umbrella for the studio at work. My friend Jim tells me he’s using umbrellas to light YouTube videos, so I may wind up getting a second umbrella and some CFL lights for that. I got the Manfrotto umbrella swivel, which seems to be the gold standard.

With softboxes you either need them big or you need them close. I bought the little LumiQuest for myself because it would easily fit in my camera bag. For the studio I want something bigger, like 20″ or more. Just don’t know what yet. Trying to stick to designs that keep the flash body on the outside for easy triggering and adjustment.

Bonus linkCreating a Home Photography Studio on a Budget – Lots of good ideas, especially the closet rod hanger for backdrops.

8 Light Modifiers for Flash Photography Compared

Neil Van Nickerkcontest: comparison between different flash modifiers

Light Modifiers Compared

Good stuff. I’m figuring out there’s no best light modifier. There’s just the modifier that gives you the look you want in that situation. It’s nice to be able to see them used side by side.

#6 & 7 – Lightbox and Umbrella
They both look great. The umbrella gives a bigger light for the money. The lightbox gives a more controlled light with less spill. The only limit is that they generally need a lightstand or assistant, so they’re not quite as quick and portable as some of the others.

#8 – Grid
The grid gives a really different look and lots of control over where the light goes. I like it a lot. Honl and Opteka make speedlight grids.

#2 – Beauty Dish
Also a very gorgeous light. Requires a boom pole, which I’ve got at work, but not at home.

#4 – Gary Fong Lightsphere
I know people who use the Fong Lightsphere and love it, but it didn’t fare too well in this test. The difference between the Lightsphere photo and the ones on either side are that the Lightsphere simply wasted more light from the flash than the other diffusers, which is the standard knock on it. Supposedly works best in small spaces with nearby walls and ceilings that don’t adversely affect color, but in that situation any bounce technique will work. My friend Margaret gets great results from hers. I need to ask her what technique she uses.

#10 – Black Foamie Thing
The homemade Black Foamie Thing is a flexible, black bouncecard. It looks darned good if you want a big light source and even illumination with almost no shadow behind the subject. Small and cheap, too.

The technique he’s using with the BFT is to bounce it off of a sidewall. I tried the technique off a ceiling and off of a wall using a reversed Flashbender, and the wall seems to be the trick. It prevents any direct light from going forward when bouncing so that there’s almost no shadow behind the subject. It also makes the light directional, which makes one side of the subject lighter than the other to create more depth than you get with ceiling bounce.

The technique he’s using with the BFT is to bounce it off of a sidewall. That prevents any direct light from going forward when bouncing so that there’s almost no shadow behind the subject and the light is all coming from the direction of the bounce surface. I tried the technique off a ceiling and off of a wall using a reversed Flashbender, and the wall seems to be the trick. It makes one side of the subject lighter than the other to create more depth than you get with ceiling bounce. It’s the difference between boring overhead noontime sunlight and the lower-angled and more interesting sunlight of the morning and evening.

#5 – Rogue Flashbender
Last week I ordered a Rogue Large Flashbender, which is a big, bendable bounce card. For studio use it doesn’t look so hot, but people seem to be getting good results out of them where there’s no walls or ceiling to bounce the flash. It also works as a snoot, gobo, and small reflector. Fits anywhere in a pack and the three flexible metals rods supposedly let you shape the light.

I like that it goes on quickly. In my limited testing it has hotspot issues on some subjects. On my SB-800 flash the only angle I can use it at is 90 degrees because that’s the only position where my flash head locks. At any other angle the weight eventually causes the flashhead to drop back to 0 degrees. For that reason if you want to use it as a snoot, bouncecard, or BFT you might want the small size.

P.S. Neil van Nickerk has lots of other good flash info on his site. I’m adding him to my list of lighting gurus I read.

What I did last night instead of blogging

Went to Lightroom class and then when on a photowalk to shoot models. Somebody’s gotta do it. Still working on the photos, but here’s one of the best.

Lightroom Class Shoot

I set a Nikon SB-800 flash behind and to the right for edge lighting. The on-camera popup flash triggers the SB-800, so you get a little cross-lighting, with some light from front left and some from rear right.

I had the SB-800 set low, like 1/64 and I partially blocked the built-in flash with my hand. I need to order one of these guys to reduce the built-in’s output when using remote flash.

Playing Around with Gelling a Flash / Concert Photography

Natalie with a blue gelled flash

Moments after this picture was taken Natalie turned into a giant blueberry and was rolled away by Oompa Loompas. Made with a blue gel.

A while back I bought a Lumiquest gel holder and sample gels. Gels are colored plastic that change the color of your flash. Ever been to a rock concert with colored lights? They used gels to add color to white stage lights.

The gel holder attaches with velcro and comes with stick-on velcro strips for your flash. It was right at home on my Nikon SB-800 flash, which sports a rich, creamy coating of velcro. For the cherry SB-400 I decided to keep it velcroless for now and use Scotch tape. That worked, so I pitched a roll of Scotch tape into my camera bag for future use.

The main use of gels for flash photography is to match the flash color temperature to the color temperature of the ambient light. For daylight and incandescent/tungsten bulbs you use color temperature orange (CTO). For fluorescent you use a “window green” that’s the hue of old Coke bottles.

But today I was playing with my kids so we used primary colors. Fun stuff. Six year old Katie took these pictures of me. That girl will be a great photographer one day.

Red Gel over Flash



Concert Photography

I bought these gels a while ago and hadn’t done much with them. Then the other night my wife took some concert photos at the Sara Jordan tribute. My favorite of that show is this shot of Jimmy Logston.


Melissa turned off the flash for that shot and captured the stage lighting. The colors of the stage lights make it. So in general, I want to work with available light for concert shots. (And plenty of places don’t allow flash, so you don’t get a choice.)

Thing is, sometimes it would be really nice to have some extra light at concerts. I think I can turn down the flash power and gel the flash with colors to add some light without blowing away the ambient stage lighting. For instance, in this picture of Natalie in the hallway she’s red because of the nearby gelled flash, but the living room in the distance is lit by sunlight coming through the windows:

Natalit lit by a red gelled flash

I’m also thinking about using a snoot or grid to put the light on just one person, which should localize the color change even more.

Misc. Notes

  • The solid black shirt I was wearing in those pics was a lucky accident that worked out great. Some other shots where I’m wearing a striped shirt didn’t look as good.
  • We played with blue gels, too, and discovered they’re not very flattering for people photography. Red tends to conceal problems that blue highlights.
  • If your flash has a manual firing button or modeling mode adding a colored gel turns it into a toy raygun. PEW PEW!
  • LATER: I experimented with the red gel photos. They’re soft here. They look better with more contrast/shadows.

For More Info


Digital Photography School

Strobist on the New Nikon SB-700 Flash

Nikon SB-700 Speedlight Misses it By This Much. Go see what feature he’s talking about. It isn’t a problem for me and there are easy work-arounds.

The SB700 looks pretty good to me. More features than the SB600 and the SB700 can work as a CLS commander, which the SB600 couldn’t. The recycle time is a wicked 2.5 seconds.

Primo Nikon Flash Links (and a couple for my Canon friends)

DPAnswers’ Nikon Flash Primer by Gisle Hannemyr

Awesome, amazing stuff. Most everything you’d want to know about Nikon flash is in these pages.

He also has a Canon flash primer and a generic flash primer.

Useful Nikon Flash References

Nikon – Nikon Flash/DSLR Feature Support Matrix

Thom Hogan – Nikon Speedlight Specification Chart

Thom Hogan – Coolpix Flash Use – I tend to forget about non-DSLR Nikons, but many of the Coolpix can use an external flash. Here’s something from that page that’s useful to know for all Nikon flash users:

First, slow sync is only the removal of the lower limit of shutter speeds on the camera body (Nikon bodies usually limit shutter speeds to 1/60 second with flash). Rear sync does the same, but also moves the point at which the flash is fired during an exposure to the last possible moment. For slow sync, only the body has to support it. For rear sync, both the body and the flash have to support it.

High Speed Flash Sync for the D40, D50 and D70

I had grokked that there was a way to use high speed flash sync with the appropriate hotshoe flash on a D40, but couldn’t find an explanation. Here it is, from Hannemyr’s page above.

High Speed Sync Without Auto FP mode
Not all Nikon DSLRs support FP mode. However, the following DSLR models: D70, D70s, D50 and D40 will sync with most generic flash units at any shutter speed (i.e. up to 1/4000 second). This is because these models use a CCD sensor that works as an electronic shutter at high shutter speed. A conventional mechanical shutter is only used at shutter speeds below 1/125 second.

For some reason, Nikon has put in a program limitation that will not let you set faster shutter speed than 1/500 second in these models if you mount a dedicated flash unit in the camera’s hot-shoe. You can get around this limitation by taping over the two metal contacts on the back of the Speedlight.

I just tried it and it works. I put a sliver of electrical tape over the two rearmost contacts of a Nikon SB800. I was able to run the D40 with the SB800 all the way to 1/4000th of a second, which is the D40’s maximum shutter speed. The only downside I noticed with the tape in place is that the flash didn’t offer TTL-BL mode. It still worked just fine in TTL.

That kicks ass. From now on I’ll carry a roll of electrical tape in my camera bag. Heck, for my little camera bag I’ll use an old backpacking trick and just carry some tape wrapped around a pencil stub.


Desmond Downs – TTL vs TTL-BL flash. – There isn’t a lot of information on this and he managed to figure out quite a bit on his own. Lots of examples. He’s had good luck with TTL-BL and +1 flash compensation.

Note: There are many similarities between TTL-BL and Canon’s E-TTLii so much of this is comparable .

Short version :- The ‘new’ TTL/BL selectively meters off the focus point diamond and exposes for the brightest object in that area , taking ambient into account regardless of the background . The subject does not need to be central , it does not need a bright background to work.

Long version : First of all why should you care about how TTL/BL works if you only use TTL flash ? For one thing your built in speedlight works and meters in TTL/BL mode.

The SB400 defaults to TTL/BL mode . Note : When using forward flash with the SB400, SB800 and the built in speedlight no compensation should be needed as the distance info is being used . And as soon as you start using Nikon’s wireless flash features in “TTL” mode it is actually using TTL/BL whether you like it or not and that is a good thing as I’ll explain later [ basically because it is a superior metering system to TTL ]

The correct term for the newer cameras is “balanced fill flash” which doesn’t care about the background, it concentrates on correct exposure of the subject taking ambient “on the subject” into account and compensating accordingly – REGARDLESS OF THE BACKGROUND!

Didn’t know my own flash’s strength


I’ve been using the new-to-me Nikon SB-800 flash lately and I’m having to learn how to use a flash this strong. Using this flash for close-ups is like using an atom bomb to roast a weenie. When you were a kid did you ever burns ants with a magnifying glass? Used up close for head shots at full power that’s what this flash is like.

So I exaggerate a little, but for short-range people photography it’s occasionally blowing out the picture big time. Part of it is the flash’s power. The other part is that the SB-800 is a zoom flash. It zooms with the lens, shaping the light into a narrower beam for longer focal lengths.

I need to remember to carry the factory diffusion dome. It softens the light like all diffusers do, but on the SB-800 it does something else. The flash detects when the diffuser is attached and switches to wide angle (24mm), regardless of the focal length of the lens. If I forget the diffuser I need to go into the menus and turn off zoom mode for closeups.

I’m also getting in the habit of taking a picture, checking the LCD, and then adjusting the flash strength – usually downward.

Nikon Single Servo AF-S Autofocus vs. Continuous Servo AF-C Autofocus

Sometimes I’ve tried to take a picture and the camera refused to fire. Now I realize why – it was in Single Servo focus mode and it couldn’t get a definite focus lock.

I ran into this the other day. I wanted to photograph some flowers that only open in the morning. I took my camera from the air-conditioned house into the balmy August morning. The camera wouldn’t fire. The warm, humid air had condensed on the cold lens. The camera couldn’t get focus lock through the fogged glass. Because it was in Single Servo mode it therefore refused to fire. Once I wiped off the moisture the camera fired just fine.

Reading the SB-800 flash manual the other day I learned that it makes a difference to the flash whether the camera is set to use Single Servo or Continuous Servo mode. Having these things happen back to back inspired me to write this up for my reference. Maybe it’ll help someone else, too.

Single Servo Autofocus (AF-S)

  • Nikon’s description: “In single-servo AF (AF-S), focus will lock if the shutter-release button is kept pressed halfway after the camera focuses.”
  • The camera will not fire unless it can get a definite focus lock. You’ll know it has focus lock when the little green focus dot in the viewfinder lights up. No dot means no focus lock.
  • You can override the requirement for focus lock by moving the mode dial to Sports mode on newer Nikons. In Sports mode the camera will fire even without definite focus lock.
  • The major reason to use focus lock (and therefore AF-S) is to be able to set focus and recompose the picture. For instance, if you’re photographing a person the focus should be on their eyes, but you may not want the eyes or even the person at the center of your picture. So you would aim at the eyes, press and hold the shutter release halfway to set focus, and then move the camera to recompose. Even though the person’s eyes aren’t in the center of the picture the focus is still set to the same distance as their eyes.
  • (Disclaimer: this flash discussion is based on my SB-800. I’m assuming other contemporary Nikon flashes work the same way.) On Nikon hotshoe flashes with autofocus illuminators – such as the SB-600, Sb-800, and SB-900 – the flash can assist in setting focus by using infrared beams, if this is enabled in the flash’s menus. The default is enabled.

Continuous Servo Autofocus (AF-C)

  • Nikon’s description: “In continuous-servo AF (AF-C), the camera will continue to focus if the shutter-release button is kept pressed halfway after the camera focuses. Because the camera continues to focus up to the moment the shutter-release button is pressed all the way down, this mode is a good choice for subjects that are in motion.”
  • This is primarily uses for shooting sports or moving objects, but it has other applications. The camera will fire even if it doesn’t have a definite focus lock. This is useful in situations in focus scenes that confuse the camera, such as shooting a rippling water surface or shooting through tall grass.
  • Pressing the shutter button halfway will not lock focus distance. This is by design – in AF-C mode you want focus to keep updating until the last possible moment to track a subject in motion.
  • The hotshoe flash will not provide infrared AF-assist in dark settings.

Automatic Autofocus (AF-A)

  • Nikon’s description: “Some cameras offer an auto-servo AF focus mode that automatically selects between AF-S and AF-C. When the shutter-release button is pressed halfway, focus locks briefly after the camera focuses on the subject in the focus point. If the subject then starts to move, changing the distance to the camera, the camera will automatically switch to continuous-servo autofocus and adjust focus in response to the change in distance to the subject.”
  • A good default, “set it and forget” it mode to leave the camera in so it’s ready for whatever the next time you pick it up.
  • When my D40’s mode dial is set to green A (Automatic) the camera automatically goes to AF-A.

How to Access These Focus Settings

In my Nikon D40 I press the Menu button on the back of the camera, then go to the Custom Setting Menu and then Focus Mode.

When the camera mode dial is on green A (Automatic) the focus setting automatically goes to Automatic. In Automatic mode the only options under Focus Mode are AF-A and Manual.

These Rules Only Apply In Autofocus Mode

These are autofocus settings. All of this goes out the window when manually focusing lenses.

References and Additional Information

NikonPredictive Focus Tracking System – Fascinating look at Nikon’s focusing technology.

NikonNikon D Technology – The Power to Change Your Photography – Covers particulars of the autofocus system, such as the interaction between Focus Mode and Autofocus Area Mode.

Swimming Pool Picasso


I love the way the color dissolves underwater.

Scored a pro Nikon lens and flash off Craigslist

Nikon 70-200mm F2.8 AF-S VR

This morning I met a guy off Craigslist and bought a Nikon 70-200mm AF-S VR F2.8 lens. It’s something I hadn’t let myself want because I didn’t imagine a $2,000 lens in my future any time soon.

The opportunity to get one at an incredibly fair price came the same night as news that I won a photo competition. I took that as a sign to go for it. This gives me a great, can’t-blame-my-equipment telephoto lens for sports, portraits, wildlife, and anything else, really. Every pro Nikon shooter has one in his collection and now I do, too.

My wife was awesome about it. Before I told her how much I spent I told her how great the lens was. It turns out she knew the lens I was talking about and was just as thrilled as I was to have it. The price didn’t bother her at all.

I also bought a Nikon SB-800 flash from the same guy, also at a great discount. Compared to the flash I’m using now it gives me high speed sync, more range, more ways to attach light modifiers, and wireless remote flash. Now I can finally try all of those ideas I got from Patrick Murphy-Racey’s class and from reading Strobist these past few years.

Meet the seller

After the last time I bought gear off a local pro from Craigslist I knew I wanted to talked to the guy I was buying from. I met him for breakfast, ostensibly to look over the equipment, but also to hear his story. It turns out he worked in the photo processing and film industry his whole life and had a photography business on the side, shooting several dozen weddings a year.

The 70-200mm 2.8 was his wedding telephoto lens. It’s fast enough to shoot in dark churches without using flash. It has enough reach that the photographer can capture the “I Do”s without getting in the way, even when he’s standing behind the back pew. Every Nikon wedding photographer I’ve known has had this lens.

When he retired to Tennessee he hoped to keep doing weddings, but couldn’t get enough bookings to bother staying  in business. He only used this lens for three weddings. Some other wedding photogs told him there was too much competition here.

I agreed. I told him the story about my first non-credit photography class at UT. The instructor asked how many people were trying to break into the wedding business. Half the class – 15 people in all – raised their hands. He teaches that class maybe six times a year. Do the math. Because of the great, affordable instruction UT provides there are lots of wedding shooters in these parts. Tough business.