Category Archives: Lighting

Austin Shutterbug Club Still-Life Workshop


Last Saturday, August 3, 2013, the Austin Shutterbug Club had a still-life and tabletop photography workshop at the Northwest Austin Recreation Center. This was a welcome outing for the month of August, as it was something that we could do indoors, in an air conditioned room!

The workshop was presented by the club’s president, Brian Loflin. Brian had brought along several interesting items that could be arranged on a tabletop and that we could use to photograph, while observing the effects of different lighting techniques.

Brian set-up 4 different still life sets and he emphasized that he was going to light them with very simple setups. The first scene was a bowl of apples in top of a lacey old tablecloth. The light source was a north-facing window to the right of the camera, and a white foam core board was just to the left of the bowl of apples.


Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

I was using my Canon 5D Mark II camera and my Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens for all of these photos. In the photo above, I had set the aperture to f/5.6 to get a relatively shallow depth of field. Later on, I came back to this bowl of apples and shot it with my aperture set to f/25, and as you can see, the table cloth behind the apples is now in focus, too.


In between the two “bowl of apples” shots, Brian had set up an interesting arrangement of old photography books, a pen, and some reading glasses. He used the light from a window, but used to small foam core boards to block the light into a very pleasing “slit of light” across the objects.


Next, he set up a collection of sewing tools and supplies on a black piece of Plexiglass. He then used one of my Fotodiox 312AS LED lights placed behind the objects (backlight) and used two small white foam core boards on either side to bounce some light back onto the fronts of these objects.


Even though Brian had cleaned that sheet of Plexiglass right before he set this scenario up, when I brought this photo up onto my computer monitor, I was very surprised at all of the dust and scratches that the camera had captured. I spent at least 45 minutes in Photoshop cleaning all of that up….

For the last still life setup, Brian had placed a vase of yellow flowers in front of a dark green velvet backdrop. We all set our cameras to capture some ambient light, while we used a snoot on a speedlite to put a circle of light right onto the flowers themselves.


I was very pleased to get the opportunity to participate in this little workshop. It was a fun thing to do inside, away from the Texas summer heat. I could easily see myself doing much more of this type of photography in the future! Maybe I can convert one of our spare bedrooms (sometimes) into a miniature little product and still life photography studio. Honey?

Thank you for stopping by and visiting my blog today.

Experimenting with Outdoor Macro Photography Using Flash

20130510_Flash_Macro_089We haven’t been working very late into the Friday afternoons at the office lately. So, last Friday (May 10, 2013) I headed home about 2:00 PM. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, even though the temperature was above average – it was going approaching 90 degrees (32 C). I didn’t want to just sit around in the house surfing the web… I wanted to go out and make some photos!

The sky was a clear blue, with virtually no clouds. I thought that might help make some great downtown photos, but I didn’t want to deal with the hour long Friday afternoon rush hour traffic to get home. It was fairly breezy, so I didn’t want to try and do some macro photography of flowers wagging madly in that wind. Or did I?

Earlier in the week, I had attended Syl Arena’s Speedliter’s Intensive Workshop that he held here in Austin. Syl is universally recognized as the world’s renown guru on Canon Speedlite flash photography. If you are a Canon shooter, you simply must buy, read, and re-read his Speedliter’s Handbook.

Now I certainly wasn’t in the mood to be walking around my neighborhood with my heavy Canon 5D Mark II camera, the 100mm (non-IS) macro lens, and a 580EX II Speedlite. I was however, willing to try something new with my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera. I thought I’d go out and try to stop the flowers in their tracks by using flash….

Now the rest of this blog is aimed toward my photography-oriented friends. If that’s not you, then feel free to stop reading right here and just scroll down through the photos. I’m about to describe the gear and the technique that I used to make these photos….

Since it was nearly 2:30 PM, with the sun high in the sky and no clouds in site, I doubted that I would need the f/2.8 aperture of my new Olympus 60mm macro lens. Instead, I decided that I would take my more versatile Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens, which also has a macro mode. (When in macro mode, the focal length is fixed at 43mm; 86mm equivalent on a full frame sensor camera.) On top of that, since it was so dang bright, I put a circular polarizer filter onto it.

Using a low ISO of 200, a small aperture opening (higher f-stop number), and a circular polarizer would normally require the shutter to stay open much longer than one would normally want – if their goal was to stop the motion of a flower wagging in the wind.

I intended to find out if using the very short duration burst of light that a portable flash emits could be used to stop that motion. I grabbed my Olympus FL-600R Wireless Electronic Flash and strapped a Small ExpoImaging Rogue FlashBenders reflector onto the top of the flash unit.

Since I didn’t want to use the flash while it was mounted in the hot shoe on top of the camera, I also grabbed my Canon OC-E3 Off-Camera Shoe Cord. One end of the cord attaches to the hot shoe of the camera, while the other end attaches to the base of the FL-600R flash unit. And yes, the Canon cord works perfectly with the Olympus camera and portable flash.

(I also have a virtually identical cord; the Vello OCS-C6, which is about half the price of the Canon cord. I keep the two cords together in identical zip-lock baggies, and I just happened to pick up the Canon cord.)

I put a spare camera battery into my right pants pocket, and 4 spare AA batteries in a holder into my left pants pocket.

OK, so that was my gear. My camera settings were to operate the camera in manual mode. I wanted the lowest ISO, which is 200 on this camera. I wanted the highest shutter speed, while not exceeding the sync speed of the camera, so I set it to 1/200th of a second. (The sync speed of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 is actually 1/250th of a second, but I couldn’t remember that, so I played it safe and set the shutter speed to 1/200th of a second.)

OK, so ISO was 200. Shutter speed was 1/200th of a second. What was my aperture? That was the variable that I played with!  I adjusted the aperture until the meter reading in the electronic viewfinder indicated anything from -1/3 stop down to -2 full stops below a proper exposure. In other words, I was simply underexposing the photo – until I got the flash involved. (Yes, I suppose I could have operated the camera in shutter priority mode and just dialed-in some negative exposure compensation.)


Before heading out into my neighborhood, I went out our back door, onto our deck (patio) and set a custom white balance in the camera. I thought that the direct sunlight would have the same color temperature as the flash, and that they would be about 5500 degrees Kelvin. My WhiBal card indicated differently, and later Lightroom agreed with the camera that there was no color cast with the Temp slider at 5950 and the Tint slider at +3. That’s where I left the white balance on all of the photos that I took later, except for the ones with bright yellow petals. On those, I cooled down the temperature to 5350 degrees Kelvin.


You can see in the photo above how dark (underexposed) the background is. That is what I was trying to do. I was intentionally adjusting the aperture so that the background would be slightly underexposed like that.

The magic happens when I turned on the flash. By putting the flash unit into the automated TTL (Through the Lens metering) mode – instead of manual mode – the flash puts out enough light until the camera thinks it has seen enough light needed for a proper exposure at the current aperture setting. When the camera and flash working together in TTL mode seemed to underexpose or overexpose the object in the foreground, the only control that I had for me to alter the result was by dialing up or down on the Flash Exposure Compensation setting.

I also had to aim the light. In the photo above, it’s pretty easy to see that I was just learning how to deal with this technique. It appears that I was holding the light too low, which resulted in some less than ideal shadows on the petals themselves.

The flash head will automatically widen or narrow the beam of light that it emits in order to cover the field of view that is seem though the lens. The flash was being told by the camera that the focal length of the lens was set to 43mm, so the flash was auto-zooming it’s head to create the relatively narrow beam of light to cover the area that would be seen through a 43mm (86mm equivalent) lens would see. The flash unit had no way of knowing that it was not mounted into the hot shoe on top of the camera, though. I changed the setting on the flash unit to manual zoom and changed it to a much wider beam of light by changing the zoom setting to 25mm (50mm equivalent). That gave a much softer bounced light off of the FlashBender.


This is two-handed photography. I was following a technique where Robin Wong recently described how he does his fabulous macro photography of insects in Malaysia. (Be sure to click that link to see how he does this.) Robin appears to trigger his flash wirelessly, and although the flash that I was using could also be triggered wirelessly, I was using the Canon OC-E3 cord – the camera and flash don’t know that there is a cord between them.


With the FlashBender mounted onto the flash unit, I was bouncing the flash off of it. Just like bouncing flash off of a ceiling or a wall, which makes the light source (the flash) much larger than when aiming the flash head directly at the subject. While I do have the Large size FlashBenders, I was using the much smaller Small size. Unfolded, the Small unit measures 10” x 7” (254mm x 178mm). I had the ends curled in, but not to the point that I had made a tube, or snoot, out of it.


I mention that for two reasons. First, the size of the white surface that I was bouncing the light off of was still about 6″ x 7″ (152mm x 178mm). When I brought it in close to the flower or bee that I was photographing, the relative size of my light was getting to be huge in comparison to the object that I was photographing. That results in very soft shadows. And remember, these photos were all taken in direct sunlight, in the middle of the day!


Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

The second reason that I mentioned the shape and the closeness of the FlashBender is this: The shutter speed of 1/200th of a second was not what was responsible for stopping the motion of the very busy honey bee. Instead, it was the much shorter duration of the burst of light emitted by the flash that was freezing his motion. Since I was underexposing the photo between -0.7 and -1.3 stops in most of the photos, the flash only had to add enough light the bring the exposure up by about 1 stop.


Since that flash unit was being held very close to my subject, it didn’t really have to put out much more than just a puff of light. The less light it puts out, the less time the flash tube is emitting light, and therefore the duration of the burst of light was probably only about 1/1000th of a second. That is what was freezing the motion of the very busy bees and the constantly wagging flowers!


Again, the only two adjustments that I was making were the aperture (to get me to an underexposed ambient light exposure) and the Flash Exposure Compensation (to manually influence the automated TTL operation of the flash unit). Sometimes I significantly underexposed the background, and sometimes not so much. Sometimes I wanted the flash to put out more light, and sometimes I didn’t.


In the photo above, I had my flash unit underneath the flower, and was bouncing the light up onto the underside of it. You can see the black Velcro edge of my FlashBender in the lower right corner of the photo. I could have removed that in Lightroom (or Photoshop), but then I wouldn’t be able to show you this “trick”!


In this photo, this blossom was on the end of a very long, spindly stalk, and it was wagging back and forth very wildly. It was coming toward me, and then going away from me. The Olympus OM-D E-M5 was having a terrible time of trying to focus on it. I just stood there and ripped off a dozen or so photos of it, and hoped that at least one of them would look sharp on my computer monitor. (Two of them did.) So, even with an electronic flash to help freeze motion, the dang camera has to focus on what you want it to!

I also had another new to me experience with this camera while shooting this way. I could see the results of my underexposure in real time by looking into the electronic viewfinder. Obviously that made everything pretty dark, so at times it was difficult to see what was going to be in focus. But, the instant that I would push the shutter button down halfway, two things would happen. First, the image in the electronic viewfinder would instantly get amplified and lit-up by the electronics to what would appear to be a normal exposure, and then (if you were lucky) you would see the focus lock indicator blink (which I had fixed to the center of the screen).

I don’t normally have the Autofocus Assist Beam turned on, but it was about this time on this walk that I decided to turn it on. It didn’t seem to help much… with my setting the autofocus to Single Shot Autofocus, it just didn’t help much with quickly moving objects – and with a macro lens, everything seems to move rather quickly. I seemed to have the most trouble focusing on red colored flowers.


Just to play around with the flash in a different way, I set it to FP TTL Auto mode, which is what Canon calls High Speed Sync flash. The photo above was taken with a shutter speed of 1/320th of a second, and the next one was taken with a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second.


In FP TTL Auto mode, the flash unit turns into a very high frequency strobe light. I don’t know how fast the Olympus FL-600R pulses, but the Canon 580EX II pulses at 30,000 times a second! That effectively turns your little flash unit into a strobe that starts flashing before the first curtain of the shutter opens, and continues flashing until after the second curtain has completely closed. Of course, the flash unit cannot pump out its maximum intensity of light while it is doing that, but like I said before, I had my light so close to my subject that I just needed it to put out a puff of light anyway.

You can tell in the previous photo that my light was just outside of the left side of the photo. The Inverse Square Law is definitely in effect here!

That last photo, the flower of the plumbago plant was just 6 inches (15cm) off of the ground. This is when I was really glad that I didn’t have to get down on my knees, bend over and look through the viewfinder while holding the camera in my right hand and the flash in my left hand. Instead, I tilted the rear LCD (it’s really an OLED panel) up, let the camera strap around my neck hold the camera at the desired height, and used my right thumb on the shutter button.


OK, so the FP TTL Auto works just fine, but I didn’t really need to use it, so I set the shutter speed back down to 1/200th of a second. As the photo above shows, even at f/11, and on a Four-Thirds sensor, you just don’t get a lot of Depth of Field when using a macro lens at close range.

The one thing that I really need to improve upon is my composition. Almost all of these photos have the subject in the center of the frame. In self-defense, there are two factors that also lead me down this monotonous path…. First, I set my autofocus point to be the one in the center of the  frame. If I didn’t do that, the camera would tend to focus on the part of the flower that was closest to the camera. In general that would be OK, but that makes it virtually impossible to focus on a bee, or other object that is not the front object. The second factor is that these flowers, and bees, were almost in constant motion. It doesn’t take much movement, when shooting at these close distances, to have 1/3 or more of the flower end up being cut-off as the wind quickly accelerates the flower from where it just was. There were several flowers that I tried to photograph that afternoon, where I was not successful in getting the entire flower into the picture – so centered in the frame is what I usually walked away with.

Now this next photo is unusual to me. A cloud came over us, dimming amount of sunlight. To get my ambient exposure down to about -1 stop, the aperture was f/10 and the shutter was a relatively long 1/50th of a second.


As soon as I took the photo, the review image that shows up in the electronic viewfinder showed violet flower in an electric, iridescent color. I don’t know if the slower shutter speed had any effect on that or not. It seems that the white balance contribution between the ambient and the flash was the same as all of the other photos, but something was making the flash turn these flowers into something psychedelic. Maybe I had spent too much time photographing the poppies down the street….


This is the yellow flower of the prickly pear cactus, and they look like they are going to put on a spectacular showing this year. Cactus flowers are easy to photograph, simply because they don’t move very much when the wind blows!

Not knowing what the heck was going on with the colors (all of a sudden), I bounced the shutter speed back up to 1/250th of a second to capture this trio of lantanas.


I was almost home, so just to get familiar with the modes of the flash, I set the shutter speed to 1/500th of a second (aperture f/6.3), and had the flash in FP Auto TTL mode for this single lantana bloom.


It is worth repeating this: these photos were taken in the middle of the day, under what is considered to be extremely hard lighting conditions. Look again at the photo directly above, and see if you can spot the hard edge of the shadows. I can’t.

I was pleased to see that I had found a way to freeze the motion of the wagging flowers, without having to take a dozen photos and the toss out the blurry ones later. As long as the camera would achieve focus and then snap the shutter before the flower (or bee) had moved out of the range of focus (depth of field), the flash would freeze them in place for me.

I would like to mention that this was the very first time that I have ever wished that I had a more substantial grip area on the camera. I’m sure it was because I had been shooting for nearly two hours by holding the camera in only my right hand. My hand was beginning to get stiff and somewhat sore. I had been holding the camera with two fingers and a thumb – while my third finger was on the shutter button and my pinky finger was curled into my palm underneath the camera body.

Next time I will attach my Really Right Stuff BOEM5 base plate for the Olympus OM-D E-M5. Maybe it will be enough extra area to hold on to.

Just three houses from my home, I spotted this “camo lizard” on my neighbor’s driveway. I popped my lens out of its macro mode zoomed it all the way out to 50mm and walked as close as I thought I could get to this little guy and snapped this photo. Even the soft sound of the shutter on this mirrorless camera was all that it took to have him scurry off to safety under their car.


The last thing that I would like to mention here is about my batteries. I took over 340 photos in under 2 hours. All but about 5 of those photos were flash photos. I never had to change the battery in my camera, or the AA batteries in the FL-600R flash unit. I never would have predicted that! It just goes to prove that you can overpower the mid-day sun with little puffs of light.

Thank you for visiting my blog!

Lockhart BBQ Tour – Part 3


This is the 3rd and last blog post that documents my experience of attending a photographic excursion lead by Wyatt McSpadden to some premier BBQ restaurants in Lockhart, Texas. This trip occurred back on February 7, 2013.

Wyatt is famous for his photography of family-owned and operated Texas barbecue establishments. He has published a beautiful book on Texas BBQ, named appropriately enough “Texas BBQ: Photographs by Wyatt McSpadden“.

In my first post of this series, we had visited Smitty’s Market, which was in a building built about 1890. Our second stop was at Kreuz Market (pronounced “Krites”), which was built 100 years later, in 1990. Our third stop, and the subject of this post is Black’s Barbecue, which was built in 1932.

When we arrived at Black’s Barbecue, it was nearly 2:00 PM in the afternoon, and the sun was about as high as it will get in the sky here in Central Texas in early February. I still had the excellent Panasonic/Leica 25mm f/1.4 lens on my little Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera.


Note that Black’s Barbecue is open 8 days a week… That must be a strong indicator that they are something special. Indeed they are! From their website, on the Black’s Facts web page, you will find these words at the bottom:

Black’s Barbecue was selected by United States President Lyndon Baines Johnson to represent Texas barbecue at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. Black’s Barbecue has been recognized by both the Texas Senate and Texas House of Representatives for their part in Texas History. The New York Times, Southern Living, Texas Monthly, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, The Food Network, Money Magazine, The Travel Channel and many others have all written about the Texas Legend – Black’s Barbecue.”

Let’s head on in and see this special BBQ sanctuary. As you enter the front door, you find yourself in a narrow hallway that leads you directly to the counter where you place your order. BBQ is usually sold “by the pound”, and they cut it up and weigh it right behind that counter – and then you pay for your order.

I didn’t order anything, as I had just eaten two meals in the last two hours, but I did stop long enough to take this photo over the counter.


Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

I went past the cash register, which takes you into the main dining area. It is quite the contrast to the cavernous Kreuz Market building that we had just left, but much more modern than Smitty’s Market (even though Black’s was built 80 years ago). It has obviously been through a renovation or two over that time.

I checked out the lighting, and it was a mix of tungsten and fluorescent lights, so I just left my White Balance setting on the camera to “Auto”.


This place looked like a living museum of Texas memorabilia!


A clock in the shape of the state of Texas, mounted horns from longhorn cattle, deer antlers, photos of football teams… Yes, this is the Texas that you would expect to see in a Hollywood movie.

The area that you get your plastic silverware, napkins, and white bread put an old safe to good use as a table leg…


Now any respectable restaurant in rural or small town area of Texas is required to have the trophy bucks (male deer) mounted on the wall for all to admire. Just above the bubble gum machine is as good a place as any…


Something about that deer on the right seemed to warrant a closer look. Damn, that taxidermist was good. That deer seemed to be looking right at me!


Now I don’t know why it is, but there is a drink served at almost every BBQ joint in Texas that is known as Big Red. I think I might have had it once… about 40 years ago. A lot of people drink it, but I only see it consumed where BBQ is served. I have no idea why that is. I did like their neon sign, but my photo of it really does not capture the brilliant colors that it was creating.


Almost all of the photographers had set themselves down at a long table that had been reserved for us, but I was still wandering around snapping photos of whatever seemed to interest me. I arranged these items on the plastic table cloth. The empty pepper sauce bottles become toothpick dispensers.


Some of the other photographers had engaged in a conversation with the Caldwell County Constables, who were just finishing up their BBQ lunch. They seemed like nice guys to me!


That is Andrew Auten on the left, Jay Defoore in the red jacket, and I don’t remember the photographer’s name who is on the right, but I do remember that he was also using an Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, and that he had flown in from Denver, Colorado just to be on this BBQ tour!

I was still wandering around, and went back to the area that was using the old safe as a table leg. I turned the labels on the special bottles of pepper sauce so that the labels were facing forward, and focused that 25mm lens as close as it would go, and took this simple photo.


Turning to my left, this little splash of color seemed to catch my attention.


Besides the bubble gum machine and the old CRT television on the wall, I think this was the most colorful item in the entire place….


Now that photo above, although just a snapshot, speaks volumes to me. Mounted trophy deer, longhorns, photos of decades of the high school football team, barbecue… yes, this worthy of the Texas Legislature’s recognition!

I felt like I had “carpet bombed” the place with my little camera, so I went to the long table with the other photographers, and pulled up a chair next to Frank Grygier. While sitting there and talking to Frank, I casually arranged these items on the table, and we had a good laugh about shooting this “still life” arrangement.


(See Frank, I told you that I would use that one!)

We were sitting close to the bubble gum machines, and since I’m drawn to color light a moth is drawn to a flame, I just had to snap this photo too.


Turns out it isn’t bubble gum after all…

About this time, I noticed that Wyatt wasn’t with us anymore, and Taylor Jones’s tethered shooting station wasn’t in the dining area, either. I asked if anyone knew where Wyatt was, and someone responded that they thought he had gone to take a photo of the owner.

I went back to the counter where you ordered your BBQ, and asked if they knew anything about the owner being photographed. One of the guys pointed to the area through the windows behind him. I could then spot Wyatt setting up his tripod through those windows.

I asked the servers behind the counter if it would be OK if I could go back into the kitchen area where they were. The first guy gave me a look like “no way”, but before the second guy saw that, he said “sure come around the counter, and I’ll show you how to get there”. Score!

Besides Taylor Jones and Jeff Stockton, who were helping Wyatt, I was the first of the “signed-up photographers” to see what they were up to. They had Barrett Black (the owner’s son) in action as the pit master.

Wyatt explained what he was going to do to light this scene the way that he wanted. The room was rather dimly lit by a few “track lights” mounted so that they would shine into the pit when the lid was raised. Since these were tungsten lights, Wyatt was going to use only the modeling lights of his portable studio strobes that he had brought. The modeling lights were also tungsten lights, so they would match the color of light from the track light. The model lights would not flash, but instead they would be constant light sources.

Now this was just like what Kirk Tuck described in his wonderful book that I had read a year ago, except that Kirk was using LED lights for shooting portraits.

Now I am not going to take any credit for the next photo, other than to say that I pointed my camera in the right direction, and released the shutter. Wyatt composed this shot, like a maestro conducts a symphony. He knew and understood what each component was supposed to do to contribute to the whole effort.


Barrett Black, the pit master, being photographed by Wyatt McSpadden, the photographer who is a legend for doing exactly this. I was almost giddy with the thought of what was happening right in front of me!

Wyatt had Barrett turn the exhaust fans off, so that the light positioned behind Barrett would light up the smoke behind him.

In the photo above, Barrett is looking directly into the lens of Wyatt’s Nikon D800 camera. I had my little Olympus camera held “stinky diaper” style” directly above Wyatt’s head, and snapped that photo. Well, almost above Wyatt’s head… I should have held it just a little bit higher; that’s the back of his black ball cap in the lower left corner of my photo.

After I got my photo, I helped one of the lady photographers by dragging over an empty 5 gallon bucket, turned it over, and helped her climb onto it, so that she could also see what was transpiring and to get a photo or two as well.

Wyatt’s photo looked absolutely stunning on Taylor’s tethered shooting station!

It was getting terribly smoky in that little room so I headed outside to get some fresh air. Several of the other photographers were already outside.

Soon Wyatt was out there with us, and he was looking for an appropriate place to take a portrait of Barrett and his Dad, Kent Black. This picnic table was in the sun, but the old sign on the side of the building behind it was in the shade. This would be the spot.


Wyatt planted his camera in the same location that my camera was in for the photo above, and then he did a great job explaining how he was going to compose the lighting. First, the exposure for the background was established. The sunlight coming from behind the two “subjects” would create a bit of “rim light” to help separate them from that background. Finally, Wyatt had Jeff assemble to large octagonal softboxes, one positioned to the camera’s left, and one directly over the camera. Using a light meter, Wyatt worked with Jeff to get the strobes to flash at the desired output levels to give the effect he wanted.

The strobes were triggered wirelessly. After Wyatt got the photos that he wanted, he offered to let us take the same shot. I didn’t hesitate one instant!

My tripod was set up about 30 inches to the right of Wyatt’s camera position. I dialed in the shutter speed that Wyatt had used, but since he had been using an ISO setting of 100, and my Olympus only went down to 200, I closed up my aperture by one stop from what he had used.


Barrett seemed relaxed and comfortable, but I got the impression that Kent was wondering if he was really expected to keep sitting there while a dozen different photographers took their turn – one by one. He never complained, and he sat there patiently, but we let him off easy, as only about half of us took our turn.

The only time that I changed my lens while at Black’s Barbecue was to put on the Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens. I did that just so I could get a couple of wide angle “behind the scenes” photos.


That lens is considered a “kit lens”, but even so I still use it more than all three of my prime lenses combined.

Wyatt then announced that he was going to be going back to Austin in the equipment truck with Jeff and Taylor. He needed to get back to town and then get ready for some Texas Photo Roundup event that was being put on by the ASMP (Austin and San Antonio chapter) and the Austin Center for Photography.

We watched Jeff and Taylor skillfully, and quickly, pack up equipment you see in the previous photo, and then the rest of us went back inside the building.

We were told that’s where we would be served our “sample” of Black’s Barbecue…. After all, it was 3:30 PM, and we hadn’t eaten any BBQ in nearly an hour and a half now. I was surprised to see my fellow photographers eat more BBQ here than they did at the previous two establishments!

We eventually got back onto our bus, 30 minutes behind schedule. Nobody cared about that, and everyone was happy. I know that I had a great time, and I got the impression that everyone else did too. Even though we got caught up in some of Austin’s terrible traffic during rush hour on Interstate 35, I still felt like we were on an adventure to remember!

I learned a lot from watching Wyatt’s lighting demonstrations in action. It seems so much more relevant when seeing it in person, rather than seeing it on creativeLIVE, or reading about it in a book by Joe McNally or Syl Arena. Don’t misinterpret me here – those are still great learning methods. Seeing it live, I got a feel for how much time it took, and saw the measure pace that Wyatt worked at – and you simply do not get to see that by reading a book.

I was extremely appreciative of the access that we were provided in these BBQ establishments. It was because we were with Wyatt McSpadden – and believe me, these places know exactly who Wyatt is and what he means to their industry – that we were allowed unrestricted access and allowed to photograph anything that we wanted to. Wyatt had earned that privilege through years of hard work, and we were allowed to tag along with his reputation. For him to share that with us was truly impressive to me.

Lastly, as we rolled into Austin, I felt very happy to realize that my previous concerns about getting in “over my head” were not warranted at all. I was comfortable around all of these other photographers all day long, and everyone treated me pleasantly and respectfully.

I hope that you enjoyed at least some parts of my three-part blog post about Wyatt McSpadden’s photo tour of three very famous barbecue establishments in Lockhart, TX

Thank you for visiting my blog!

Samantha and the Fireplace

20130102_Samantha_and_Fire_004This photo shows how things have been around here lately! This is our fat cat, Samantha, who loves to sleep in front of the fireplace – especially when there is a football game on the TV. Since it has been rather cold and dreary outside, and football is in high gear right now, Samantha is spending a lot of time in front of the fireplace.

Since I did my last post, on the photowalk around the University of Texas campus, I have done some photography, but not the sort that I can put up on my blog.

On Sunday, December 16th, Barb and I met friends for brunch at Threadgill’s Restaurant (the one where the old Armadillo World Headquarters was located) and then went over to the Palmer Events Center, where they had the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar going on. The Austin Lounge Lizards were playing, and we got there early enough for front row seats. I had my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera and my three fast prime lenses with me. I took dozens of low-light, high ISO photos with the aperture opened wider than f/2.0.

I would be thrilled to show them to you, but I don’t have the band’s permission. I didn’t see any “No Photography” signs, but we did pay a $5 admission to get into the Bazaar, so that means it wasn’t considered a public place. Since I’m not sure about the copyright issues, I’ll be safe and pass up this opportunity to show you the best photos that I took during the entire month of December.  Maybe I’ll send a few of the photos to the band and then ask their permission to show them here….. maybe.

20121216_Armadillo_Christmas_Bazaar_111On December 19th, I had a paying event to photography Bonnie B.’s 70th birthday party. It was in a meeting room at the UT Club, which is located within the east side of the DKR – Texas Memorial Stadium. I went there a few days in advance to see what sort of lighting I would have to deal with. Fortunately the 10′ – 12′ (<3m) ceiling was white, so I decided to use my Canon 5D Mark II with a single on-camera Canon 580EX II flash, which I attached an ExpoImaging small FlashBender to. I simply put the camera into Manual mode, set the shutter to 1/200 th of a second, the aperture to f/5.6, put the flash into TTL mode and added +2/3 stop of flash exposure compensation.  I simply bounced the flash off of that white ceiling. The results were great, and my post processing effort was minimal. Again, photos that I’m proud of, but don’t feel comfortable showing here, since I was paid to take these photographs for Bonnie.

20121219_Bonnie_Bain_70th_BDay_018Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

20121219_Bonnie_Bain_70th_BDay_058On Christmas Eve, my Dad and Rita (my step-Mom) came over for lunch and to play cards. This is the standard “line ’em up in front of the fireplace and take the shot before we eat” type of family snapshot. No flash, just try to get everyone to stand still for 1/4 of a second…

20121224_Christmas_Eve_004Here’s one of just Dad and Rita. I was using my Canon 5D Mark II that day. Again, no flash.

20121224_Christmas_Eve_006Christmas Day was spent over at my Mom’s house, where my cousin Mike and his wife, Janel, joined us. Mom’s house is pretty dark inside. I didn’t want to use a flash, so even though the temperature was a pretty chilly 42 degrees (5.5 C) and breezy, I got everyone to go out onto her shaded porch and got everyone to act like they were not cold for about 3 minutes.

20121225_Christmas_002During the weekend after Christmas, Barb and I drove up to her sister’s house in Coppell, which is a suburb northwest of Dallas. That’s a 3 and a half hour drive for us. Barb’s brother and his family drove in from Sugarland, which is a suburb south of Houston.

The sky was overcast, which would have been great lighting for a family photo, but it was very cool outside, and everyone asked me to see if I could find a spot indoors. Since I was travelling, I had brought my Olympus OM-D E-M5. In my bag I also had a single Olympus FL-600R flash unit, and I also had a small FlashBender.

I arranged a couple of chairs in the middle of Lisa’s kitchen floor and put the camera on top of my little Gitzo tripod and positioned it so that I could shoot over the top of her counter. I put the camera in manual mode, and I put the small flash unit into manual mode as well. It took about 7 trial photos to get the right amount of mix of ambient light and flash that I wanted.

20121228_Christmas_in_Coppell_002I was bouncing the flash off of the ceiling. This little flash puts out much less light than the Canon 580EX II is capable of. Even so, I dialed down the output of the FL-600R to 1/10th of full power.

After that, I simply told each person where I wanted them to sit, stand, or kneel.

20121228_Christmas_in_Coppell_005I’m not entirely thrilled with the results, but given the circumstances it isn’t all that bad. The flash appears to be a little too “hot” on some of the people in the front, and just adequate on the people in the back.

Now, this isn’t entirely appropriate, but a scene like this strongly reminds me of Robert Earl Keen’s song “Merrry Chistmas from the Family”. If you’ve never heard it before, then you should definitely take a few minutes to check it out!

So, as you can see, I have been staying pretty active with my photography. It’s just not the type of photography that would be of much interest to anyone outside of my family. The photo of Samantha in front of the fireplace seems very appropriate to me right now. We’re just snuggled into a comfortable spot during the darkest days of the winter right now.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Lighting Set-up for Portraits at Curves

This post describes the equipment in my portable “portrait studio” that I set-up at the neighborhood Curves facility for their 10th anniversary celebration. To walk through it, I’m simply going to describe what you see in the photo above, and the crappy iPhone photo below.

Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

Before I get into the equipment, I want to draw your attention to the far right side of both of the photos. There, affixed to the large mirror on the wall are several of the photos that I had taken for the Curves Member of the Month photos back in 2011. If you look close, you may even spot the two portraits of Barb that I showed at the beginning of my previous blog post.

OK, now on to the lighting. As you can see, my whale gray backdrop was positioned halfway in front of a floor-to-ceiling window that was allowing lots of morning sunlight to come streaming in. To make my backdrop more opaque, I simply draped a king-size bed sheet behind the backdrop, and used 4 red handled A-clamps to hold it in position.

The facility was brightly lit with probably 100 banks of fluorescent lights in the ceiling. The sunlight was streaming in from the window on the left. I wanted to use my small portable Canon 580EX II Speedlites to illuminate the people in the portraits. To complicate things further, all three of those light sources emitted a different color (spectrum) of light. How the heck was I going to make these women look good under such conditions?

To start, I put up a round reflector on the left side of the photos above, to block the sunlight from coming in from the window and directly hitting the model, who would be sitting on the posing stool that you see in the middle of the set-up. The round reflector is a Creative Light 5-in-1 Reflector, which is 47″ in diameter. I put the black cover on this reflector facing the posing stool. I used a Paul C. Buff RBH2566 reflector kit mounting arm to attach the reflector to a standard light stand. I have wasted good money on three other such arms in the past, and this one is not only the best that I have used, it is also the least expensive!

As for the fluorescent lights, I borrowed the step ladder at Curves, and climbed up to disable the two light banks that were directly overhead of the set.

At this point, the ambient light was what it was, and I was just going to have to deal with it. The way that I deal with it, is to “kill it in the camera”. What the heck is that?

I wanted to underexpose any picture that would be taken with just the ambient lighting. To make the digital sensor of my Canon 5D Mark II the least sensitive to light, I set the ISO to 100, which is where this camera also captures the most detail that it is capable of. The “sync speed” of this camera is 1/200th of a second, so that is the fastest shutter speed that I would be allowed to use later, after I turned on my flashes.

With the ISO at 100, and the shutter speed a 1/200th of a second, the only thing left that I could use to control the exposure was the aperture (the diameter of the opening in the lens that light passes through).   So before I turned on my flash units, I took a few test shots, where I adjusted the aperture down to a small enough opening that any photos that I took would be severely underexposed – effectively killing the ambient light “in the camera”.

The photo above was taken with the aperture set at f/ 5.6. Notice that this is the same photo at the very top of this post – except in this photo, the flashes were not turned on. You can see the white bars of the exercise equipment, and you can see the gold star balloon on the right in both versions of the photo. So, even without the flash, there was still some of the fluorescent lighting that was going to contribute to the exposure, but it wasn’t going to be very significant.

I could have made the aperture smaller by setting it to f/ 8 or even f/11, but that would mean than when I did turn on my flashes, they would have to put out twice (from f/5.6 to f/8) or even 4 times (from f/5.6 to f/11) the amount of light. That would drain the 4 AA batteries in each flash unit twice, or 4 times, as fast.  By  leaving the aperture at f/5.6, I was expecting to get at least 100 flashes before I would have to change the batteries.

So those were my camera settings: ISO 100, shutter at 1/200th of a second, and the aperture at f/5.6. About the only other thing to mention about the camera itself is that I put the camera into “mirror lock-up mode”, and I use an electronic cable release to trip the shutter.

I put the camera on the tripod, and put a Speedlite in Master Mode into the hot shoe of the camera. This Master was set so that it would communicate and send commands to the 4 Slave units I was going to use, but this Master would not put out any light that would contribute to the actual exposure. I pointed the Speedlite up towards the white ceiling, so that it could bounce its control pulses of lights to the Slave Speedlites that I was about to use.

The lens that I chose to use that day is a Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM lens. This is not a high end Canon “L” lens (L for luxury), but it is still a wickedly sharp lens. The 85mm lens on a full-frame sensor camera, like the Canon 5D Mark II is a allowed me to back up about 6 to 8 feet (2 to 3 meters) from the models, and that’s about all the space that I had to work with before I would be bumping up to the exercise equipment.

At that distance, with that 85mm lens set to an aperture of f/5.6, I was going to have to pay careful attention to what the camera would focus on. I wanted to use autofocus, because even though I was going to have them sit on the posing stool, I was expecting that they would be swiveling back and forth as we experimented with more than one pose. I was going to be dealing with less than 1 foot (~10cm) of depth of field (front to back in focus). If the camera focused on the front of the model’s blouse, her eyes could be 6 inches behind that, and therefore not very sharp – and her earrings would certainly be getting blurry. I also knew that I would have to really be paying attention to this later in the day when I had a mother and daughter couple shot, and that the last time slot was the largest group of the day – a family of 4.

Since the camera and lens were set-up, the next thing that I worked on was the background lighting. I wanted the gray backdrop to be lit consistently (the same for every shot) and I wanted a vignette effect (a darkening of the corners of the photo) to surround the head of the model.

I put a Canon 580EX II Speedlite on a small light stand (the right-most stand in the two set-up shots above). I put it into what Syl Arena calls “free agent” mode. This is a mode that allows you to shoot with both E-TTL and Manual control of Speedlites at the same time. This is all described on page 148 of Syl’s book “Speedliter’s Handbook: Learning to Craft Light with Canon Speedlites”.

To get the vignette effect, I first put a large ExpoImaging Rogue FlashBenders onto the Speedlite and bent it into a shape that I thought would create somewhat of a spotlight onto the backdrop, directly behind the model. I never could get the somewhat uniform spotlight effect that I was after, and so after about 10 minutes of trying, I took off the FlashBender, and replaced it with a ExpoImaging Rogue 3-in-1 Honeycomb Grid unit.

I used the 45 degree honeycomb grid, and the spotlight pattern was easily obtained!  All I needed to do now was to dial in the amount of light (intensity) that this Speedlite would put out each and every time it fired.

Even though it is a trial-and-error effort, because I was using a whale gray backdrop, it is a very simply process. I would simply put the camera on the tripod, and take a photo of the backdrop. Since it was gray, I wanted a large spike on the histogram (on the back of the camera) to be positioned a little to the right of the center of the graph. (I wanted it to be brighter than 18% gray.) So I would take a photo, look at the histogram, walk over to the flash and dial up or dial down its power setting, and go back to the camera and take another photo, look at the histogram, rinse, and repeat. It only took a couple of shots to determine that I wanted this Speedlite set to 1/4 power.

Normally a well lit backdrop is sufficient to separate your model from the backdrop, but I like to do a little more. I like to use a “hair light”. This is seen in the two set-up photos above as the little light on the end of a small “boom arm” that puts it high, near the middle of the backdrop. The stand that I use, is a black Manfrotto 420B Combi Boom Stand, which Syl Arena had recommended. You definitely need to use a sandbag as a counterweight to the boom arm, and I also add another one at the base, since the entire rig begins to get rather top-heavy.

I also put this hair light Speedlite into the “free agent” mode, and attach the ExpoImaging Rogue 3-in-1 Honeycomb Grid to it, using the 45 degree honeycomb. I used the same method described above to get the power level set the way I want. I used a small step stool so that I could change the power lever on the back of the Speedlite, without changing the position of the light (which can be very frustrating). I asked Barb to be my model, and had her sit on the posing stool while I took several photos to try and dial in the power setting of the hair light.

In the photo above, the hair light was still a little too “hot”. You can also see how the light on the backdrop is creating a big spot of light centered behind her, and that it is creating the vignette effect (darkening of the corners). This photo is actually out of sequence, (because I had my main and fill lights also firing, which I will describe shortly), but I use it here to support my story.

With the camera in Manual mode, and the background and hair lights in free agent mode, they were not going to change – ever (well, not until the batteries in the flashes were run down).

Now it was time to set-up the main and fill lights. These two lights are “inside” of the two black umbrellas that you see to either side of the posing stool in the two set-up shots above. Instead of shooting the flashes through a white umbrella, I like to bounce the light off of the inside of the umbrella. I use a somewhat unusual 45″ Bowens Silver and White umbrella.

If I put these lights into manual mode, I could put them in position then use my light meter and dial in the amount of flash output they would need to produce to get a correct exposure with my camera’s aperture set at f/5.6. There are two problems with this, though.

The first problem is that my Sekonic L-358 light meter doesn’t work well as a flash meter with my Canon 580EX IIs. When the master Speedlite sends out the “pre-flash” burst of light, it triggers the flash meter, instead of the “real flash” that occurs just milliseconds later.

OK, so I could simply dial in the exposure by having Barb sit on the posing stool a bit longer and adjusting the power of these two lights (which can be done from the back of the camera – unlike the free agent mode slaves) – but there is another problem. I tend to move my main and fill lights around a lot. It seems like I’m either trying to avoid getting their reflections in the model’s eye glasses, or I want to bring them further up or farther back, depending on the features that I want to accentuate (or diminish) on the model’s face.

For these reasons, I like to keep my Speedlites in E-TTL mode for these two lights. I always set the lighting on the main light to be twice as bright as the fill light (a 2:1 ratio). Sometimes to “fine tune” that lighting ratio, I’ll simply move the fill light closer or further away from the model (than the distance of the main light to the model).

OK, so now with all 5 Speedlites on and operational, I had Barb sit on the posing stool, and I made my final adjustments to the lights. I dialed down the power of the hair light to its final setting of 1/8 -0.7 power. (That’s a funky way that Canon uses to describe a power setting that is 2/3rds of the way from 1/8 power to 1/16 power.) Her blond hair no longer seemed to be “blown out” at this power level. I also added +2/3 stop of Flash Exposure Compensation, which only effected the main and fill lights, which were in E-TTL mode.

I photographed one lady late in the morning, and two more in the early afternoon. During the late afternoon, during a two hour downtime, I recharged the batteries in my Speedlites. After that, as I was turning everything back on and making sure that my settings were all “good to go” for the two groups that were coming in, I sat on the posing stool and talked Barb through how to capture this portrait of myself.

The main light was to the camera left (my right side), and was set to twice as bright as the fill light, which was to the camera right (my left side). You can see a hint of the hair light on the top of my head – it really lights up my gray hairs – but more importantly, that hair light also lights up the top of my shoulders, which separates my gray shirt from that whale gray backdrop. Lastly, you can also see that the light on the backdrop is fairly well centered behind me, and is producing a nice vignette in the upper corners of the portrait.

Now I realize that my efforts are very “amateurish” as compared to any experienced and talented professional, such as Kirk Tuck. But I’m sharing what I have already learned, as maybe it will help someone less experienced than I am. I realize that I didn’t mention anything about posing, and I suppose that it’s because admittedly, that is something that I still need to learn more about.

I have heard back from all 5 of the ladies that I took portraits of, and they all seemed to be very pleased with the photos that they have seen. I am choosing not to include the photos of my clients in my blog posts, but I will soon include them in the “Studio Portraits” section of my “Photo Gallery” that you can find under my large banner at the top of my blog home page.