Photo lighting 101+

As a photographer who borrowed money to pay for a formal, technical photo education, I can tell you that is a must-see for the modern photographer who wants to increase his/her lighting skills. Photographer-publisher David Hobby shares a wealth of information regarding alterations/adaptations, so photographers without huge budgets can create awesome lighting with small portable Canon/Nikon flash units.

Strobist’s approach and instruction changed my life. Among the techniques that I’ve learned from the site and applied:Drilling holes into my very expensive Cannon flashes, so that I could hotwire them to fire by remote. (I did, however, run two units too hard and ended up frying them); building a softbox out of cardboard; extending the range of some cheap Chinese remotes by soldering on a few inches of wire; making gobos (go-betweens; anything used to block light) out of cereal boxes and gaffers tape; making bounce cards out of Coroplast that effectively reflect light and are light to carry; using Velcro on my flash to easily add gels and other light modifiers; using cardboard rolls as snoots (to precisely aim lights).

Among the Strobist features I’ve found most valuable are the modifications and reviews of modifications that offer practical and inexpensive lighting solutions. The site also presents examples of techniques and modifications that stretch for miles on Flickr, as well as excellent reviews of some of the newest and most practical photo tools. Strobist’s descriptions of a vast range of photo techniques, including illustrative photographs in every post and often instructional video, too, are generally clear and easy to learn from. For starters, check the drop-down menus for the Lighting 101 Archive.

You may find photo sites that are as good as Strobist, but you will find none that are better. Hobby’s creativity is honestly jaw-dropping, and his site is an outstanding resource for photographers ready to take their flashes off their cameras and delve into more advanced lighting setups.

Members of the Strobist Group on flickr usually post detailed information about the photos they take and techniques used. It’s a great place to get ideas, reviews and information.

-- Dominic Duncombe 01/19/10


Lighting 101: Balancing Flash and Ambient, Pt 1

More than maybe anything, the quality of light in a photo comes down to the lighting ratio. On one level, it creates the whole look of your photo. On another, your lighting ratio will likely be the key variable in determining whether your paper can reproduce the information in the shadows. It's all about the shadow detail - either you want it or you don't. And you want to make the call on what reproduces in the paper.

Balancing with ambient is the same process, whether you are lighting an interior portrait or fill flashing a headshot outside. Always think in terms of balance instead of fill. The concept is less limiting. And it will not predispose you to use the sun as your main light when the strobe might be the better choice in a given situation...


Lighting 101: Bare-Tube-Style Lighting

One of the limits of using a small, shoe-mount strobe is that all of the pieces are integrated into the flash. Power, capacitors, flash tube and reflector - all wrapped up in a package the size of a small Subway sandwich.

Larger flashes tend to have a more "component" type of layout, with separate power packs, flash heads, tubes and reflectors. While this generally adds more weight and size, the fact that the reflectors are usually removable gives the big-flash guys the ability to shoot "bare-tube."

Bare-tube (or maybe you have heard the more old-school term, "bare-bulb,") means nothing more than having your flash tube sitting out there in open space pushing its light out into (nearly) a 360-degree sphere of coverage. I say nearly because there has to be some wire carrying power and triggering the flash. And that blocks some of the light in one direction....

Why is this cool? There are a couple of reasons.

First, you can light a room with one head, effectively spewing light in all directions. Two bare-tube heads, high and at 45-degree angles, will light one very crisp-looking group shot. (Just drop one of the heads down a stop or so to get a nice ratio.)