Learning Your Equipment – Part 3

Learning your equipment sounds really easy until getting out into the field and realize, “I never thought about how to evaluate the amount of light put out by my light source!” Now this opens up a new area for questions and learning. “How sensitive is my camera to light?” “How does my camera’s sensitivity measure against its shutter speed?” “How does my camera’s sensitivity to light change with each aperture stop?”

Some answers can be “too simple” or rather purely informational without direction as to the application of the information. So in this post I hope to bring you two options explaining their application to the best of my ability.

Option 1: Light meter. Handheld light meters get more expensive the fancier features they contain. There is an excellent article by B&H Photo on learning about handheld light meters and information to help you choose the appropriate light meter for you. Most digital cameras are equipped with light meters (if you will remember the light meter I referred to in my first post on “Learning Your Equipment”). However, there is one key difference between a handheld light meter and a light meter in your camera.

The difference in light meters held in your hand or in your camera is this, the meter’s location. Now what will help you most? A light meter showing you the amount of light surrounding your subject or the amount of light around your camera? Answer: You want to know the amount of light around your subject. That makes it a little difficult to measure the light around your subject with your camera when it is more efficient to have it set-up on your tripod.

Option 2: Requires a lot of experience and a trained eye and mind. Using your own vision to estimate the light around your subject is cheapest and builds your skill. I am still tweaking my own skill, so I am not much practical help at this time. Some practical pointers to come in Fridays post.

Back Lighting

Back Lighting in very broad terminology can be used to describe many different photography styles, however it speaks directly to the way that the light illuminates the subject. We will not have the space in this post that would be required to discuss all of these options, but I will provide a list of shot types for you to play with and perhaps we will be able to return to discuss them in more detail at a later date.

Back Lighting is exactly what it sounds like, putting the part or all of the lighting source behind the subject to highlight their outline in light. In using light this way it is possible to capture silhouettes; Wash-out or over expose the back ground (giving a different appearance to the location); Add an infinite amount of light around your subject without making a harsh contrast in shadow and Vignetting. All of these options have more to do with camera settings than lighting, although lighting is still required. So enjoy your time playing with these things; now we will work more on the theory and practical work of Back Lighting.

Necessary equipment:

  • Reflector
  • Flash
  • Studio lights
  • Soft box
  • Bright light source in the background (it is cheaper to work with multiple light sources)
  • Tripod
  • Remote Shutter Release

Setting up your camera for success.

  • High aperture
  • Low ISO
  • Moderate shutter speed (1/10th – 1 second)
  • Prime focal lens (50mm optimal for portraits)

A slow shutter speed is not required for any reason other than to make sure the subject is properly exposed rather than the background. Feel free to shorten the shutter speed if you have enough light to do so. Obviously I know a small amount about photography, but just because I know something does not guarantee that I know everything. So play with you camera settings and have a ball getting the best photos you can!

“Insider tips”

Sorry to disappoint you. This is not a blog for insider trading tips on Wall Street or international markets. However, if you are a hobbyist or professional photographer, you may be interested in these ideas for “unconventional uses of non-standard equipment.”

Have you ever wanted to use a welding mask as a lens filter to catch that solar flare? Maybe your object is silhouetted against the sun, or you just need another filter to get this picture while a new filter is in shipment. Have no fear, the “jack of all unconventionally used equipment” has some suggestions. [No, the super hero bit does not work for the author. -Editor]

A welder’s mask is an option though usually bulky and not practical to carry with your bag of equipment.

On the left is a lens from wrap around sunglasses and a picture to it’s right that illustrates the effects it gives to a photograph shooting into the sun.

For less bulk and still providing some amount of light filtering, try using a lens from an old pair of sunglasses (picture on the right). Holding the sunglasses lens up to your camera lens as if it were your eye works very well.

Pictured below is a flash-light I carry in my camera bag which is not sold as a piece of photography equipment. The picture next to it illustrates what it adds to a shot.

The light which makes the walls to glow are from the lights in the Christmas tree, but without the flash-light pictured above, the presents and the bow would have been silhouetted. The use of the flash-light in this picture is in the style of photography called "light painting". It is a very interesting technique.

This is the family Christmas tree with some slight and true edits.

Have you ever needed a flash and the built-in flash never properly illuminated or over illuminated your subject? Try mounting your camera on a tripod and lighting your subject with a flash-light, by hand, instead of a flash. This can be tricky, but with planned coordination a lot of fun! There are several things that will need to be prepared before hand in order for this solution to be effective.

  1. A sturdy tripod adjusted to the appropriate height.
  2. Camera shutter speed set so that you have time to illuminate the subject.
  3. Test the proper White Balance setting for the flash-light so as to prevent odd coloring in the photo.
  4. Test the amount of time you will need to illuminate the subject for proper exposure.

This is not meant to tell you how to do anything, although we do hope it gives you the help and creative suggestions that you need to try new things. Enjoy and keep learning!

A studio set-up

Creating a studio background sweep for that “all professional” look is not that difficult. Your attention should be drawn to the object or subject of interest and not the lighting or set-up of the shot. In other words be sure that you lights are pointed directly at your subject and not slightly off to any one side.

Setting up your own studio does not have to be complex or involved! The basics can get confusing if they are not properly explained. I will post some pictures of my studio set-up with unusual equipment so that you can get a visual understanding of how it can work and improvise with your own set-up.

Equipment list:

2 lengths of 12.5 feet of paracord, 1 pane of 8″ x 10″ glass, fabric background sweep, Prop for glass and jewelry (cleaning pen cap and a 2 inch ring box), over head structure (Be certain it is sturdy! I used 2 securely installed ceiling light fixtures), tripod, remote shutter release, 2 soft light diffusers, 2 lights, camera and a good macro lens (as well as the obvious batteries and memory card).

I began my studio construction with an over head structure that would hold my background sweep and a light.

I began by taking a length of paracord, tying an overhand knot in the end and inserting it between the wood of the light fixture (pictured on the left) and it’s diffuser. Thus with the pull of gravity and the light weight pull of hanging objects it will be caught in a “pinching” hold.

I used this same technique for each time I made a contact point with the light fixture. For knots that were not at the ends of the paracord I used the overhand knot on a bight.

Be creative while playing around with methods of friction because friction properly applied is your best help and not destructive!

Friction, as illustrated on the left, is holding the light in one place along the paracord. The paracord is looped around the open end of the stand making it easily adjustable along the support line and providing way to  adjust the placement of light on the object.

It rarely is a good idea to have hard light shining directly on the object or subject, so I removed the reflective outside of photo reflectors and used the white fabric of the reflector disk as a diffuser. Again I used the convenient open end of the stand from which to hang the reflector disk. The reflector disk must be pulled back so that it covers the “shooting area” where the object or subject is placed. I used a straight pin to gather the reflector disk fabric around the power cord, nicely covering the shooting area of the background sweep.

A note of caution: Be careful of hanging anything heavy on the line. The weakest part of the over head structure in this set-up is the diffuser.

We have discussed how one of our lights is set-up, but there is another light that needs to be set-up at a lower angle and portable to figure out the best position to illuminate the facets of the piece or person in focus.

Let me introduce the “chair mount”. If you are familiar with lashing techniques I used the square lash to secure the light to a chair back making sure that the power cord for the light was long enough to reach any place the light may need to be positioned.

Having extra paracord from lashing the light to the back of the chair, it conveniently became the securing point for the reflector disk.

Now that the studio is ready for some of the smaller details, an 8×10 inch piece of glass (clean from dust and dirt) is a nice addition to reflect an object. Bring in you camera, tripod and objects to photograph and begin to play with object position and camera perspectives. Take your time with the first piece being sure you have properly set your cameras white balance, ISO and shutter speed to properly show off the beauty of your photo’s focus.

Have fun and  be creative, because fun and creativity will make a better statement than perfect professional rigidity.