| March 2009 Newsletter
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New book is now shipping:
The Nikon Creative Lighting System. Using the SB-600, SB-800, SB-900 and R1C1 flashes.
Go here to purchase a signed copy:
GOAL Assignment (see text)
February GOAL Assignment: High Key Images
This arctic fox photo is a high key image. Most things in the composition are brighter than medium gray. High key photos typically have a brighter background than the foreground.
The same arctic fox as above, but this time photographed with a dark background. This is a lower key image. Which do you like the best?
Here's a black and white conversion of a light house along the New Jersey shore. The bright background helps create the high key effect.
To create the high key effect in this image, I aimed an SB-800 flash at the backdrop to help blow it out.
This is the Lastolite backdrop I frequently use to help create high key images. Place this backdrop behind your subject and aim a light onto it to blow it out.
Another high key image. This time I used the bright clouds behind the girl to create the effect. Be careful that you don't underexpose your subject when taking these types of photographs. To do a good job of this, add exposure compensation to brighten up the photo.
March GOAL Assignment: Low Key Images
Your GOAL (Get Out And Learn) assignment this month is to take some low key images. These are images where the overall tone is darker than medium brightness.
Digital Tidbits: New MacBook Pro for Photographers
The new MacBook Pro is a great tool for photographers. I bought this 15" model in February, 2009.
The touchpad is pretty cool because the entire pad is a button. You navigate around the screen using getures; similar to using an iPhone.
Just another pic of the Mac in action.
Interview: Speedlight Pro Kit
The new Speelight Pro Kit 4 with the white diffusion panel. Here, I've mounted the system on a light stand and I'm triggering it as a remote flash.
Here are the grids that come with the kit to help direct the light onto the subject.
Mike Hagen Ė Out There Images, Inc. Ė March 2009 Newsletter
In this Newsletter:
- February GOAL Assignment: High Key Images
- March GOAL Assignment: Low Key Images
- Digital Tidbits: New MacBook Pro for Photographers
- Interview: Speedlight ProKit
- Workshop Updates
It has been a wonderful month for us here at Out There Images, Inc. The first printing of The Nikon Creative Lighting System book has shipped and is almost completely sold out! Thatís good news and we are already working on the second printing. If youíd like to order a copy for yourself, order from here and weíll ship you a signed copy: www.outthereimages.com/publishing.html
Workshops have been selling very well around the USA. I just returned from sold-out workshops in Atlanta and Orlando and Iím on the plane right now, leaving for workshops in New York and Boston through the Nikonians Academy (www.nikoniansacademy.com). It is encouraging to see how many people are still committed to photography during this downturn in the economy. Our workshops provide an affordable way to learn your camera gear so that you can keep following your passion.
We have a great workshop coming up at the end of April/beginning of May in Oregonís Columbia River Gorge with Out There Images, Inc. Four days of fantastic photography in one of the USA's most beautiful areas. This is a learning workshop where weíll spend a lot of time on composition, photographic design, exposure methods and gear usage. It is a hoot and I know youíll love it should you decide to come. We still have seats available, so head over to our website to see the details: www.outthereimages.com/travel_workshop.html
Also, we have a really fun workshop to photograph baby wild animals at the Triple D Game Farm in Montana this May. Weíll be shooting baby mountain lions, leopards, wolves, foxes and many others. I canít wait to join a bunch of other wildlife enthusiasts photographing what we love. There have been a lot of questions about what type of gear you might need for this trip. Since the animals are in a controlled environment, you wonít need the big 600mm f4 lenses! In fact, lenses like the 18-200mm or a 70-200mm will work out just fine. Iíd love to have you come along for the adventure. Details are posted at www.nikoniansacademy.com.
Finally, weíve added a bunch of new locations including Hawaii, Texas, Ohio, and DC as well as new topics such as the Nikon D90/D80 and the Nikon D700/D3. Check out those workshops at www.nikoniansacademy.com
In general, life is busy and life is good for us at Out There Images. To quote a famous business woman, Iíve bitten of more than I can chew and Iím chewing it! Most importantly, Iím having a fantastic time taking photographs and creating beautiful images. In fact, last week I took a quick trip up to Discovery Bay and Port Townsend in Washington State. I took tons of photos of the small town, the sunrise, the old buildings, ice cream, kids and adventure. Taking my camera with me on a trip is one of my absolute favorite things to do and I never seem to tire of it. Hopefully this monthís newsletter encourages you to do the same!
February GOAL Assignment: High Key Images
Your Get Out And Learn (GOAL) assignment last month was to explore the world of high key photography by experimenting with bright backgrounds. Did you take the time to get out and take photos? I did!
A high key photo is defined as an image made up mostly of light tones and relatively few medium/dark tones. Others define it as an image where most elements are brighter than middle gray. Generally speaking, high key images have a bright and/or white background that contrasts greatly with the subject in the foreground.
High key images tend to take on a much different feeling than darker (low key) images because their brightness creates the perception of a happier mood. High key images can be used to illustrate a healthy lifestyle, vibrancy, happiness, positive, enthusiasm, and youth. Many people also use high key images as the opening portions of a slide show or a book in order to set the overall tone (pun intended) of the presentation. For example, if you are choosing photographs to illustrate your vacation to some far off land, think about using high key images on the first two pages of the book or the first two to three images in the slide show. These will let everybody who is watching know that your trip was fun and happy rather than a painfully slow slog through mosquito infested swamp lands.
The best way to create a high key photograph is to manufacture it with flashes or other lighting equipment. To really make a white background super bright, youíll need to pump a lot of light onto it so that you blow out all the detail. In the example here, I have fired an SB-800 flash at full power through a small diffuser at the background. If I didnít pump additional light onto the background, it would have registered as medium gray or even darker.
Obviously, there are many situations where you donít have access to the background or it isnít practical to place strobes in the scene. For example, in the fox photograph to the left, I didnít have the option of placing a strobe behind the animal, but I did have the fortune of photographing it in the snow. Snow makes a great background for a high key photograph. In this photograph, I metered for the background and made sure that it was exposed at two stops brighter than medium gray. There are a number of ways to do this. The first is to just add exposure compensation until the histogram registers the data almost all the way to the right side. The second is to switch your camera to Manual exposure mode, point your camera at the snow and meter it so that the light meter shows +2.0.
Look at the difference in the two photos of the fox between the high key image with snow in the background verses the darker (low key) photo with trees in the background. They take on completely different feel. Which do you like best?
If you are photographing people on location, you can bring along a portable background that folds up easily. One of my favorites is made by Lastolite and is called the Panelite Diffuser (6íx4í) model LR7207. This background can be used as a white background or as a reflector or as a diffusion panel. I like using it for creating a simple backdrop in any situation. The photo to the left shows this background in a studio situation. I was photographing with a regular gray mottled background, but wanted to try out some different backgrounds quickly. I placed the white Lastolite panel behind my subject and then aimed a flash at it to brighten it up a bit. It is easy to do and very fast. Since this panel folds down, you can take it with you when you are photographing at someoneís house or at the local park to create an instant high key background.
When I travel to distant cities/locations, Iím always on the lookout for different areas that can provide a simple white or light backdrop for a photo. I use the sides of building, large vehicles, schools, businesses, billboards, whatever. Iíve also used a cloudy sky as a simple backdrop.
There are some negative things that can happen with high key images such as underexposing your subject. One of the issues with high key lighting is that since the background is so bright, your metering system can be biased so that the subject becomes dark and underexposed.
So, the next time you go out shooting, be on the lookout for bright backgrounds that can help create a nice high key look to your image. Try to create some bright, happy photographs.
March GOAL Assignment: Low Key Images
It follows from last monthís GOAL assignment that this month I want you to work on creating low key images. A low key image is one where the overall scene is darker and bit more moody. Next month, Iíll give you some tips to consider for creating lower key images. So, get out there to shoot some low key photos.
Digital Tidbits: New MacBook Pro for Photographers
Those of you who have worked with me before know that Iíve been using a PC for most of my career as a professional photographer. In general, Iíve been extremely happy with the performance of Windows computer systems over the years. I was using an Alienware Area M51 17Ē laptop with dual processors and 4GB of RAM, attached to a larger Eizo monitor. Everything worked very well and the system was sufficient for almost everything I did.
In the last few months, Iíve been concentrating more on video production and multi-media content, so I needed to upgrade my computer system to address these more video-card-intensive operations. I figured that now would be a great time to assess the capabilities of a Macintosh computer. I spent a few months reading about Macs, trying to learn about what features I needed versus how much they cost. Since I travel so much, it made sense for me to consider purchasing a laptop system first.
Macintosh has just recently updated their entire line of MacBooks so I went to the Mac Store and made an appointment to meet with a Mac sales associate. I wrote down a list of questions a mile long and spent quite some time going through all the details that are important to me as a photographer/videographer. I asked questions about screen calibration, profiles, multiple monitors, USB/Firewire connectivity, blue tooth, battery life, wireless mouse, Wacom tablets, FTP programs, installing Windows Vista on the Mac (gasp!), transferring my previous email and contact data, running Skype, etc.
The people at the Mac store had an answer for every question I threw at them; thatís impressive in its own right. What impressed me more though is how well everything worked when the Mac geniuses showed me the details on their floor models. For example, when I asked about monitor profiles and making sure you have the correct profile loaded for a specific monitor, the Mac genius clicked a few buttons and showed me that it is as simple as going into the Utilities folder. It shows you which profile is active and current for each monitor that you are using. In almost every case, when dealing with the Mac, the answer from the Mac gurus was ďjust install it and it works.Ē
So, after a successful trip and a good learning experience, I decided to buy the 15Ē MacBook Pro with 4GB RAM and a 320 GB 7200rpm drive. It turns out that the brick and mortar Mac store doesnít carry the specific model I wanted, so I decided to purchase it online from the Mac website.
The new MacBook Pro arrived approximately one week later in a simple white box. I opened it up, turned it on and spent about an hour configuring it. Then, I started installing all my software and hardware. True to form, you just install it and it works! Peripherals like printers, mice, monitors and projectors all just work! No fuss, no muss.
I currently own a lot of Windows based programs and I didnít want to spend a bunch of money right away to upgrade all my software to the new Macintosh operating system. So, I purchased a program called Parallels that allows me to run Windows at the same time (i.e. in parallel) with the Mac Leopard OS. The system works phenomenally well and even allows the MS Windows programs to access all my peripheral devices such as my wireless router, printers and communication ports. I find myself frequently opening a Windows application such as MS Excel, then copying some data and pasting it into a program running in the Mac operating environment. It is amazing and very slick.
Iíve found the Mac to run as fast as or faster than my previous Alienware computer, but I donít know if thatís a fair comparison since they have different processors and different hardware. So far, I havenít ever been in the situation where Iím tapping my fingers on my desk waiting for the Mac to complete a process. One of the things that is much faster on a Mac however is the boot up time. I can start working within about 1.5 minutes from pushing the ON button on the Mac. On my Alienware or on any of my other PCs, it takes anywhere from 5 minutes to 10 minutes to boot up.
Shutdown on a Mac takes literally takes just a few seconds. I can work right up to the moment I need to leave and then just shut down the computer within seconds. This is helpful for me in places like an airport where Iím working before my flight departs. When the gate boarding agent says itís time to board, I shut down the Mac, close the lid and walk onto the plane. Easy.
For working on my photographs I have found the Mac to be blazingly fast. Specifically, working with Photo Mechanic on the MacBook Pro is one of the happiest photo experiences of my life. I can scan through photographs faster than I ever thought possible. I have also found the Mac to be a fast performer with Nikon Capture NX 2 and other photo processing software when processing RAW files.
Another thing about the MacBook Pro that I love is the new touchpad. It doesnít have any ďbuttonsĒ; rather the whole entire pad is a button. You can quickly access different programs, browse web pages, rotate photographs, zoom in, zoom out, hide screens, etc. all with the swipe of your fingers using special gestures. It does take a little while to get used to the new trackpad and you really have to learn to keep your fingers and thumbs away from it when you are working in programs like Photoshop. The reason why is that the trackpad will automatically rotate your photo or zoom into your photo if it feels your hand brush against it. It can be very frustrating, but you quickly learn how to work with the pad. I wish there was a way to configure the trackpad based on your own preferences, but right now you are stuck with Macís settings. Rumor has it that Adobe just published a new software patch that allows you to disable gestures on the new trackpad, so hopefully it works as well as they describe.
There has been a lot of discussion around the MacBook Proís glossy screen and how ďbadĒ it is for photography. I have found the screen to be very good in a controlled lighting situation like my office. In fact, I like looking at my Mac screen more than looking at my larger Eizo monitor just because things are so bright and contrasty. I havenít calibrated my laptop screen yet, but I know that it is currently too bright for accurate rendering of my photographs. The downside to the glossy screen is that it reflects anything bright and shiny behind you. So, if you were looking at the screen in places that have windows in the background (like an airport or office building), then it can be distracting to have the screen. I guess the key to using it well is to make sure that you donít use it in those areas. For most of my work, it performs perfectly and Iím happy with it. I've used it on airplanes, in conference rooms, in my office and outside. So far, no major complaints.
Is the Mac perfect? No. I still get random error messages and the SSBOD (Spinning Beach Ball of Death) every once in a while. Iíd say that I get some type of computer lockup or malfunction at least twice per week. I donít think there is a computer platform out there that is totally free of glitches and random troubles, but overall, Iím very pleased.
Do I think everyone should go out and buy a Mac right now? Not necessarily. Iíve been a happy PC user for 20 years and I continue to be a happy PC user. I know that my Mac does some things easier than the PC, but in the end, they both get the job done. I am enjoying this new platform and am having a ball learning new things about it every day. It will be interesting to see if my opinion changes over the course of this year.
Interview: Speedlight Pro Kit
A few weeks ago I received a press release from a company called Speedlight Pro Kit that described a new flash modifier for small strobes such as the Nikon SB-900, SB-800 and SB-600 flashes. Since I do a lot of work with small flashes, I wanted to try out their product. After seeing the design, I asked the company if I could interview their owners and ask them some questions about their flash system.
Their website is www.speedlightprokit.com and they sell their products out of the UK or out of Malaysia. The products I tested were the Prokit 4 with white diffusion panel and with the honeycomb. Additionally, I tested out a couple of small snoots that fit right over the front of the flash to better control light spillage onto the background of the scene. I have tested out the units in a variety of shooting scenarios and found them to perform well. The quality of light is nice and the units perform as advertised. I used the white diffusion panel to light up the background during one of my portrait sessions. I also used the honeycomb unit as a hair light in another photo session in order to keep the light from spilling around the scene while also preventing lens flare.
I think the biggest advantage to the Speedlight Prokit system is that it breaks down and folds flat so you can easily transport it to your shoot. Another thing I like about the system is that it doesnít require you to tape Velcro onto your flash in order to attach the diffuser to your flash. Rather, it uses a 3M grippy pad that uses friction to hold the system on. I have only used the system around my office, so havenít been able to really put it through the paces in the real world to see if the attachment system will keep the product from falling onto the floor.
Here is my interview with Joe Chan and Dennis of Kok Speedlight Pro Kit.
Mike Hagen: Tell me a little about your company.
Joe & Dennis: We are a partnership of two professional photographers operating from a smallish outfit under the name ďLightshop DesignĒ. We are based in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia and I suppose to you all, we are what you call the ďFar EastĒ. Lightshop Design belongs to Joe Chan and Dennis Kok who individually operate separate commercial photography companies ; ďADS Photographer Sdn BhdĒ and ďFlyers - Still and MotionĒ respectively.
Speedlight Prokit products are considered very new in the market, and were just invented in mid-2008. The idea was first thought of by Joe as he moaned and groaned about having to lug around all those heavy and cumbersome studio lights for his outdoor photography.
Both of us had a hand in the designs and in our enthusiasm in the early days we seemed to come up with many product designs in a very short time (much to our amazement). At any one time, we were always creating prototypes, testing, utilising, discarding or improving them without actually completing a single product. A few months later we knew we had something that would revolutionise the use of small strobes in flash photography!
Mike Hagen: What products have you created? What types of flashes will they work with?
Joe & Dennis: We now have a comprehensive range of flash modifiers: reflectors, diffusers, honeycombs, filters and diverters. In all, we are now marketing 14 product items (in sets or separately) namely: Speedlight Prokit Pro Set, Speedlight Prokit No 4, Speedlight Prokit No 6, Speedlight Prokit Flexi Bounce, together with a wide array of accessories and spares.
Please visit our website at www.speedlightprokit.com for the full range of products and accessories. We encourage viewers to sign in for free membership to access our news and views, technical information and tutorials. They can also use our forum for feedback and write blogs to exchange ideas and share their experiences.
Our unique mounting system ensures that our Speedlight Prokit products can be used on almost all types of flash strobes in the market, including the larger Nikon SB-900 as well as the smaller Nikon SB-600.
Mike Hagen: Why did you decide to create a new flash product for small strobes? The market for flash modifiers seems pretty crowded. What makes your product stand out from the crowd?
Joe & Dennis: We had foreseen that the technology of the dSLR cameras would soon be so advanced and would far outpace the needs and requirements for the monoblocks and power packs of studio lighting. We therefore reckoned that all equipment and gadgets will continue to become smaller and smaller. We are aware that the market is pretty crowded with flash modifiers but we believe that our products are the ones that really work!
Speedlight Prokit products are made from the finest materials and we are continuously sourcing for better and more durable materials. For example we use 3M tapes and Velcro fastenings. The real reason why our Speedlight Prokit products are far superior compared to the rest is that they are light and portable, flexible, versatile and expandable. They are unique and effective in design and can be detached, folded and stored in the smallest of places!
You have to use Speedlight Prokit products to really appreciate and experience the revolutionary transformation from the bulky studio lights.
Mike Hagen: The Speedlight Pro Kit 6 is a very innovative design. Tell me how it came into being and why did you decide on a hexagonal shape?
Joe & Dennis: As we all know, the larger the surface area of the flash modifier, the softer the light effect. Hence when we had Speedlight Prokit No 4, we already envisaged that we will need to create No 6. in natural progression to the desire for softer light effects. Why the hexagonal shape? The biggest area shape would be a square followed by a circle, but they would not be rigid enough and the conical shape that the circle would create posed storage problems. So we shaved off parts of the circle and ended up with a hexagon!
Mike Hagen: Tell me about the quality of light that a photographer should expect from the Pro Kits and from the Flexi Bounce.
Joe & Dennis: The quality of light through our diffusers and honeycombs is enhanced because light power loss is minimised and there is no evidence of colour shifts. Another plus point is that the recycle time of a small flash can be much faster than the monoblocks and this is especially advantageous for high speed action shots. Overall, we note that the quality of light from our products is much improved.
Mike Hagen: What products are you working on for the future?
Joe & Dennis: Our current range of products, we believe, can cover all aspects of flash photography requirements at this stage. We do not envisage any new products in the short term.
However, we would not rest on our laurels and we are continuously putting our products to the tests based on feedback from users. In-house we are also doing some R and D in the hope to fine tune and improve on our products. Being fairly new in the market, we intend to concentrate on sales, marketing and distribution. In that respect and to safeguard our interests, our distributors and us have applied for design patents for all our products.
Mike Hagen: What else do you want to tell people about the Speedlight Pro Kit?
Joe & Dennis: We are very excited about our Speedlight Prokit because we know that it is a breakthrough in flash photography. You are now free from the heavy and inflexible monoblocks and power packs including all those messy cables and wires. Our products are affordable and you can start with the basic set and add and build up as you go along. The items are expandable, interchangeable and modular giving you total flexibility.
Most importantly, we think our products offer you endless scope in your creativity for as we all know there are no hard and fast rules in flash photography. So, go get your Speedlight Prokit, assemble and set it up and shoot!
You must use Speedlight Prokit and experiment with it to see the transformation in your photography!
Mike Hagen: Thank you two for taking the time to talk with me about your new products. Have a great day and good luck with your business.
Joe & Dennis: Youíre welcome Mike!
We run workshops all around the USA and the world through Out There Images, Inc. Our workshops are run through Out There Images, Inc. (www.outthereimages.com) as well as the Nikonians Academy (www.nikoniansacademy.com). Check out the information below for specific topics and dates.
The Art of Travel Photography Workshops
Join us for a photographic adventure in 2009! Learn how to turn your next vacation into an artistic experience with our Art of Travel Photography Workshops. We have two Art of Travel workshops planned in 2009. Our Columbia River Gorge workshop will be from April 30 Ė May 3rd, 2009 and our North Cascades NP/Mazama September 24-27, 2009. If you are thinking of signing up, contact us immediately in order to be placed on our signup list. Go here for more details:
Nikonians Academy Workshops
We have more classes than ever for 2009. Topics include Nikon D300, Nikon D700, Nikon D3, Wireless Flash, Capture NX 2, D90, D80, D60, D40 and more travel workshops than you can shake a stick at. Weíll be teaching great photographic subjects all around the USA as well as some international destinations.
Our topics include:
- Triple D Game Farm baby animals
- Nikon D300
- Nikon D700/D3
- iTTL Flash
- Capture NX 2
- Nikon D90, D80, D60, D40
Find out about all of our workshops here: www.nikoniansacademy.com.
Private instruction is a very popular way to learn specifically what you want to learn in a one-on-one environment. During these sessions, we are able to work specifically on your own photographic needs and at your own pace. Available topics are studio lighting, nature photography, wedding photography, Photoshop, color management, digital workflow, flash photography, portraiture, exposure theory, and more. Many of our customers have requested specific topics and we have tailored our private tutoring to their needs. Call (253) 851-9054 or email (email@example.com) if you have questions about this option.
Thatís it for this month. Now get out there and take some beautiful photographs!
Out There Images, Inc. - "Get Out And Learn!"
PO Box 1966
Gig Harbor, WA 98335
All images and content (C) 1998 - 2009 Mike Hagen / Out There Images. All rights reserved.