Saturday, September 17, 2016

Product Photography using Strobist/Off Camera Flash Technique, Video Tutorial



Hey guys, just wanted to share a video of me explaining how I did some of the earlier strobist product photography shots that I did. I created this video to further show my perspective on how the whole photography process from start to finish.

In the video, I went for the "low key" look which means dark background and high contrast look on the images. This helps to create that interesting visual "pop" on the images to capture the attention of anyone who looked at your photos.

I photographed 3 different kind of products of different size and texture, so that you can get a feel of how the technique will apply to just about any small product that you will photograph. I used my trustee GX8 with the 12-35mm f/2.8 lens to do the whole thing, as well as to video myself on some parts of the tutorial. For the semi-top-down view of the photography process footages, I used my LX100.

The main thing that I want to emphasize here is that you have to experiment and repeat until you get the best result that you are looking for. By moving things around and change the settings a little bit on both the camera and the flash, you will gradually alter the look of the image a bit, and after a few repeat and observation, you will surely nail the look that you want.

Here is the video, I hope you enjoy the tutorial, cheers and God bless you :)


Thursday, September 15, 2016

8 Months with the LX100, What Do I Want From the LX200?

Hello people, today I want to share my experience on using the Panasonic Lumix LX100 for 8 months, as well as what I think the successor of the LX100, shall we say LX200, should be.
  

  
As a little background to the story, I originally purchased the LX100 because I was having a real tough time trying to nail a environmental portrait strobist-type pictures under a harsh, bright, sunny day, because my other cameras can only sync at around 1/250s, which means I have to close down my aperture quite small, around f/8 or f/11, which at that point the flash will have to be fired at a very high power.
  


  
The LX100 was the solution of that problem, and it solves the problem rather nicely. And I bought it, originally, solely for that purpose only. I can now fire at 1/1000sec and still have the flash sync to the camera using radio triggers, and now I can shoot at f/2.8 or f/4 insted of on f/8 or f/11, which makes the pictures look nicer too with the shallow depth of field effect. Combined with the fact that it has great 4/3 sensor as well as nice optics, it produces some of the most stellar strobist environmental portraits that I've ever taken.
  
  
But now that time has passed, I found myself to be using the LX100 for so many other things besides strobist environmental portraits. It is now acting as my everyday carry camera(EDC), and since it is always with me all the time, I rarely use my smartphone for taking picture anymore.
   


  
There are many other things that I really love with the LX100. The great 24-75mm optics with large f/1.7-2.8 aperture really makes it a great all around camera. The dedicated control dials for the shutter, the aperture, and the exposure compensation are really nice too, I can set things even before I turn on the camera, which is really nice. The picture quality is great, the AF is relatively fast though not always accurate, and the video is just superb. It is really superb, and with the addition of 4K, it really is the perfect travel video camera. Low light, while isn't great, is doable as long as I don't go above ISO 1600. It really is a photographer's compact camera, but with great video features.
  
  
For 8 months, I traveled with it, carry it in my EDC bag all the time, and I can now safely say that this camera is an "almost" perfect EDC camera for me, both for stills and for video. I really enjoyed the stills and video results coming out from this camera, the images and video footages look very nice and professional. It's now a real extension of my hand, and whenever something interesting comes up anytime, I can reach the LX100 in my bag to document it when I don't have my big boys within reach(the GX7 and the GX8).
  
  
However, nothing is perfect, and the LX100 is not an exception. Now that the LX100 is already 2 years since its original launch date, I really think it's time for Panasonic to come up with a nice follow up for the LX100. Maybe it'll be called LX200? And Panasonic got the chance to make it right this time, and make it even closer to a perfect camera.
  
  

Here's what I have in mind. The small size of the LX100 combined with great optics and a decent 4/3 sensor means it's a decent compact camera. 

   

It's supposed to be carried everywhere and make great stills and video. Combine the great controls and usability with great stills image quality as well as nice 1080p and excellent 4K video modes, and what you get is the "almost perfect " advanced compact camera. 

   

Almost perfect, not perfect.

  
  
Now that the market is travel photographers, enthusiast photographers, and casual videographers, it is almost inevitable that most of them will try to use the LX100 as an ultra decent vlogging camera, but unfortunately it is not capable of doing that. And that's a shame! Why?
  
Because it doesn't have any mic input and articulating touch screen that can be flipped! 
   
  
  
Okay no touch screen fine, I learned to live without that. But for casual video and vlog, you need the articulating flipping screen! And to not include an mic input jack on this great little video-able camera is just a plain stupid decision! Many companies make small travel microphone like the Rode Video Micro for vlogging, and the LX100 could have been the perfect match for this kind of accessories, but apparently Panasonic missed this opportunity 100%. And that isn't helped by the fact that the onboard mic sounds like garbage.
   
  
So maybe Panasonic wants to protect their higher end GH4, G7 or GX8 of course because they want those cameras to be their de-facto enthusiast video cameras, which makes sense, but in my opinion adding flipping screen and mic input on the LX100 won't eat into the GH4, G7 or GX8 market at all. People who choose these high end ILCs need these cameras to become their primary workhorse, while the LX100 is more of a decent complementary or travel camera rather than a full blown workhorse camera.
  
It doesn't mean that if you empower this kind of complementary camera with the same features as the workhorse camera it'll suddenly turn into a workhorse camera. The form factor matters, and the fundamental design of the body, the controls, usability, performance, as well as the ability to change lens can't be compromised. And thus in my opinion the LX100 should not eat those GH4, G7, or GX8 cameras.
  
I, for example, have both the LX100 and the GX8, and boy oh boy both these cameras have completely different roles. Assuming that the LX100 now have a mic input and articulating screen, I will still need the GX8 badly for what I do; The GX8 will perform much better and snappier on event reportage, serious photography session, and serious video production sessions than the LX100. It's a true workhorse camera that can't be replaced with something like the LX100.
  

So here's what I want from the LX200, Panasonic. Will you please listen to what I will say carefully, and consider these points carefully, Panasonic.

  
1. Fully articulating touch screen that can be flipped, like the one on the GX8, G7, and GH4.
2. Mic input! Mic input! Full blown 3.5mm jack, not the stupid 2.5mm mic input jack like the one in the GX8, that's just plain stupid. Headphone input would also be nice but not priority. Don't you dare leaving out the manual audio control in the software, Panasonic.
3. Better stabilization.
4. Better performing sensor. We need to push the low light capabilities of the camera.
5. To hell with the multi-aspect ratio cow poo! Give us full 4/3 sensor coverage with no crop.
6. 16MP is enough, 20MP will be better but megapixel isn't priority as long as it is sharp. Low light is more important!
7. Faster and snappier camera. The startup time of the LX100 is really slow and it's not helped by the fact that the lens retraction is also slow during startup, and the time needed to open the gallery is also slow. Give us mechanical zoom like your 12-32mm lens, or like Fuji X20, to hell with this crappy slow motorized zoom!
8. Better 1080p bitrate please, 4K as good as the LX100, and please give us Cine-like color profile at least if you don't want to give away V-log profile on your cameras.
9. Weather sealing, please, please, please?
10. Did I mention fully articulating touch screen?
11. Same overall size as the LX100, don't blow the size up too big like the jump from GX7 to GX8. Make it like the jump from GX7 to GX85.
12. Better EVF, doesn't need to be big, just give us a slightly smaller version of the GX8 viewfinder.
13. Built in ND filter, 3 stops or so.
14. To hell with the stupid iA button that I kept pressing on accidentally! If not, at least please give us the option to customize it into a regular Fn button.
15. Did I mention 3.5mm mic input jack?
  
I can tell that if the LX200 has all the greatness of the LX100 combined with all the points I mentioned above, it will have the potential to instantly kill the Sony RX100 series, the Canon GxX series, and even some low end DSLRs like Canon Rebels or lower-end Nikon for video(not for stills though, although if Panasonic work really hard on the still aspect, Panasonic will eventually kill them too!). It will not definitely eat into any of the advanced DSLR or Mirrorless market, though it will probably hurt the lower end mirrorless like the Panasonic GF or Olympus' lower end PEN-Lite market.
   

So please Panasonic, don't screw this one up...

  
 
I hope that the LX200 will produce higher quality still image when compared to the LX100. It should have a better low light performance and the ability to resolve fine detail better than the LX100. Megapixel increase is always nice, but in my opinion there is no need to go really high on the megapixel.
  
I also really hope that people will be able to vlog properly using my version of LX200, and what they will have in their hand is the compact camera that can shoot ultra nice video, with option to add little microphone to improve their vlog quality.
  
  

Vlog is a huge thing today, and thanks to social media platforms trying to encourage more video contents in their veins, people now want to create and to record vlog, more than ever. 

  
No, I'm not talking full professional video production style with caged cameras on a rod with some follow focus rig and external monitor on an arm, but just a casual little footages taken with tiny little pocketable cameras that looks like nothing and can be carried everywhere, with decent video quality and the option to improve the audio on camera using external mics.
  
  
   
Let me tell you, I'm not really a brand loyal user. I don't owe any allegiance to Panasonic or Olympus or Sony or Pentax or Canon or Nikon. So if Panasonic refuses to listen to this suggestion, it's fine, and if some other companies end up making the exact camera with my version of LX200 spec above, I wouldn't hesitate to buy it no matter what the brand is. But since the LX100 is such a nice camera, I do have some faith that Panasonic does have what it takes to build my version of LX200.
  

   
So yeah, I really hope that my version of LX200 will become reality. Now please excuse me while I'm enjoying some down time with my beloved LX100.
   
I hope this post is informative enough for you. Until next time, cheers and God bless you :)
   

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Using Micro Four Thirds for Event and Commercial Photography

Hey guys, today I want to share a video that I just made, explaining all the gear that I carry for shooting commercial as well as event photography(and video too).

On a nutshell, I use Panasonic Lumix GX8 and GX7 as you may already know, along with Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 and Olympus 75mm f/1.8; each lens is attached to a single body and won't get taken off to avoid lens changing. Other lenses that I bring and might use are the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 and Olympus 45mm f/1.8.

I also carry speedlights, YongNuo YN560IV and YN510EX. For quick light modifier, I bring two Rogue FlashBender bounce diffuser for run and gun style portrait on the fly.

Other accessories includes my Apple Macbook computer, my LED light to replace one of the flash, and my audio kit which includes a Zoom H1 recorder and a Sennheiser ME2 lav mic.

I also have other gear that aren't included in my video. Those are my tripod, my lightstand, my shoot-thru umbrella, and some of my other lenses. Depending on the kind of shooting that I need to do, I might need to bring them. But most of the time, I can survive without those tool just fine, and that's why I didn't include them in the video.

Here's the video, if you have any question, feel free to comment here or in the video. Hopefully you'll find this video useful.



Thank you for watching, God bless you :)

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

How I Shoot It #7: Strobist Environmental Portait, Tokyo Skytree

Hello everyone, today I want to share another "How I Shoot It" post. Today we will discuss my favorite type of photography: strobist environmental portrait. Basically, what that means is, you shoot a portrait with a scenery, and add some off-camera-speedlight(flash) to light the subject, so that you can control and expose the subject and the scenery separately.
  
Now why on earth do you need to do that? Have you ever encountered a back-lit situation, where the scenery/background seemed to look so bright, that if you expose for the background, the subject will look very underexposed, and when you try to expose for the subject, the whole scenery just looked totally white? Well, off camera flash is your answer to making sure that you have control over both exposures: the subject and the background.
  
Now you may ask again, why off camera flash? Because it will give that 3D look on your subject rather than the usual flat, harsh, fake look that you always get using on camera flash or built in flash. When the flash is fired from an angle and not straight forward from the camera, you'll get a very interesting sculpting light that will enhance the feel of your portrait subject. Depending on what you are after, you can make the light more dramatic by introducing shadows to your subject. This is done by severing the angle more to the side of the subject. But often times, you want the subject to look more toned down, and thus you might need to aim your flash from a slightly straighter angle. More on that here.
   
This kind of environmental portrait is actually very important to understand, because this could be the perfect technique that you might need when you are doing travel photography. You could photograph your loved ones using this technique and get an excellent, repeatable result, using just a camera, a lens, a speedlight, and someone to hold your flash.
  
Now, without further babbling, here is the picture that I want to share:
Strobist Environmental Portrait, Tokyo Skytree
This picture was taken last month on a trip to Japan with my friends. The huge tower behind me is actually Tokyo Skytree, a very famous tall tower in Tokyo. My friend actually took this picture(thanks Marsha!), and another friend held the speedlight to light me from the side(thanks Charlotte and Carissa!).
   
The key concept here is just a portrait with a scenery on the background to provide context of place and time. The Skytree tower provides the place context, while the afternoon sky provides the time context of the photo. This is a very typical travel photograph that you will take, and doing this using the technique that I will explain will actually help you take a better travel photograph compared to just your available/natural light environmental portrait.
  

Technical Details

Camera Setting

I shot this using my favorite camera ever: The Panasonic GX8, using my favorite lens ever: Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8. This was shot at f/8, shutter speed of 1/320sec, and ISO 100. It's all full manual, and it was based on a trial exposure that I took before hand of the scenery.
  

Technique

To be able to understand how to shoot using speedlight in bright sunny day like my picture above, you have to know the limitation of using speedlight in bright sunny day: shutter speed. Your camera can't register what your flash shoots above a certain shutter speed. This shutter speed limit is called the flash sync speed. This is what you need to know from your camera, AND you have to try to break that sync speed too and see if it really is correct.
  
In my GX8, the known sync speed is 1/250s, which means anything above 1/250s will cause the camera to not register the flash exposure. This means if you shoot 1/500s or 1/1000s, there will be some dark/black bars on your picture, caused by the shutter plane not moving fast enough to catch up with the flash. But I experimented with my GX8, and I found out that I can still shoot 1/320s without that black bar appearing, so I can safely say that my particular GX8 has a 1/320s sync speed(yes, I'm one lucky son of a beach hahaha!). Your GX8 might not behave the same way unfortunately, so you have to test it by yourself.
  
Moving on, I first checked the exposure of the scenery. To do this, I need to put the camera on full manual(sorry, no single automation allowed folks!), and I set the shutter speed to 1/320s. I then adjust the ISO and aperture accordingly until I find the right exposure or 0EV as dictated by the metering system of the camera. In this case, I was shooting on a bright sunny afternoon, so I want the lowest ISO possible. I then set the ISO to 100(it's the lowest ISO on the GX8, but not the lowest native ISO), and set my aperture accordingly until it reaches 0EV. The ISO and shutter speed gave me f/8.
  
After I took care of the ambient exposure, I started messing with the speedlight.I don't use modifier in this picture, except for a 1/4 CTO gel that is permanently attached to the flash, so I don't need to compensate the power for the modifier. I began by testing the flash exposure on my friend, with the flash positioned 1 meter away from her, at camera left, almost 90 degrees from the camera angle to get the most dramatic lighting on me as possible.  I started at 1/4 power, and then adjust my flash power from there. Took a test shot, apparently 1/4 power was too much, so I dial down to 1/8. I tested again, still too much, so I set it to 1/16 and it was perfect!
   
I then asked my friend to hold the flash, and frame my composition. Once I'm done, I asked my other friend to compose as I did, and then I posed and she took the picture immediately.
  
Composition wise, I want to have the Tokyo Skytree to appear very dominant in the image as a scenery, because it's the main context of place in the picture. I want it to fill the frame, while I want myself to fill just half or a quarter of the frame. I used 12mm on my 12-35mm, that is like 24mm on full frame. Anything wider than that will make the picture looks distorted, but anything tighter than that will make it difficult for me to get the whole skytree in the frame. So 12mm is a sweet spot in my opinion.
   
I tried to include foreground elements such as the roof of the building in front of the skytree, as well as the fence to enhance the picture a bit, so that the picture can have more elements that provide more context to enhance the Skytree. One thing to keep in mind, don't clip the top of the Skytree, clip just the bottom part of it, like in my picture. It looks better that way, trust me!
  

Post Processing

I always shoot RAW, just in case I messed up so bad in my image. Think of it as sort of an insurance. You pay a bit to cover the risk. In this case, you pay for a bit of storage space, but you'll gain very flexible images that are very tweakable and hopefully repairable when you messed up.
   
Thankfully, this image is already near-perfect and is very close to what I have in mind. Also, since we are using speedlight, there isn't much thing that needs to be done in the post processing, because the speedlight improves the quality of the light in the picture dramatically.
      
The only thing that will require a bit of slider-action is the Skytree itself. We are exposing for both the Skytree and the sky, and as the result of the metering of the camera, the Skytree appeared a bit dark. So we need to raise the exposure of the Skytree. All I did was to raise the shadow by about +30 or +40, and drop the highlight a bit by about -20 or -30 to balance the sky with the Skytree. Compensate for both the shadow and higlight repair by adding some contrast to the image, and we're done.
   
If you are feeling ballsy, you can shoot this in JPEG with your desired picture profile, and not post process your image at all. It can be done, but don't mess up, because once you messed up a JPEG image, it's actually messed up forever and you can't repair it.
    

How to Improve?

I could have used a large modifier like an umbrella to make the light softer, and compensate the power of the speedlight by both using a leaf shutter camera and firing the flash at full power. That will give a better light quality on me. Unfortunately, it will also means a significant amount of gear that I need to carry. It's also inconspicuous, that kind of setup will make the security guard comes close and stop you from taking the picture.
  
I could also choose a more proper time of the day, when the sun is lighting the Skytree tower from the front, and thus having both the sky and the Skytree in the same range of exposure without the need to raise the shadow and to kill the highlight. That way, the speedlight also doesn't need to work as hard, and can be used to light from a different angle and makes the whole picture more interesting.
  
But overall, I'm very happy with my result of this picture. I hope this picture will inspire you to take great travel portrait of you and your travel buddies with great scenery in the background.
   
Leave me any comments if you have questions or suggestions.
  
That's all for today, cheers and God bless you :)
  

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Minimalist and Compact Traveling Strobist: Traveling Light With Your Light

Hey all, sorry for the lack of update, I've been very busy lately and also I traveled to a lot of places extensively during this last couple of months. Today I want to talk about how I go about traveling with off-camera-flash setup, or what I love to call Minimalist Traveling Strobist. This is my version of ULTRA COMPACT STROBIST SETUP.

  

Why?

Say, you're going to visit a nice beautiful European village during a nice beautiful spring-sunny week during your holiday with your loved ones. You're now planning your itinerary and already checked out some crazy cool sceneries on Flickr or Google Image, and you want to have your loved ones photographed with those sceneries with the highest quality possible.
   
Now, people usually will just bring a camera and shoot. They will shoot with whatever light condition that is available at that time, and they think the better the camera/lens, the better the result is. Okay, you could always go natural/available light, and yes you could get some nice image provided that the sun is on the "correct" angle compared to the scenery. But if the sun angle isn't right, then you will potentially encounter backlit photographs. To compensate for backlit scenes, your camera needs to have such crazy dynamic range that you can pull up the shadow so much while keeping the highlights from clipping. But even so, with natural/available light, you'll most likely end up with underexposed subject, or blown scenery, so you'll have to really push things in editing carefully if you want to make the most out of it. That means hours of Lightroom development doing touch ups with the brush tools, pushing/pulling the shadow/higlight faders, endless adjustment using the radial filter, trying to crush overexposed sky/background, and finally cursing followed by keyboard smashing everytime the edge of your histogram clips.
 
See that grey sky? It's supposed to be clouds with a hint of a little blue sky here and there. I tried pulling the highlight as far as I could but it's just lost and turned into grey sky.
   

Sounds tiring?

That's where the strobist or off-camera-flash photography comes in. In short, it'll allow you to take perfectly exposed photo of a scenery with people in it; the kind of photos that is really suited for holiday photo. Strobist technique will allow you to control both the background(scenery) and the subject independently for the best exposure possible, regardless of the background lighting condition. This will save you a lot of time in your post production, and you will get a much more pleasing image that isn't backlit, or overly post-processed. Heck, you can even shoot JPEG with this technique if you feel ballsy about it!
  
I suggest you to check out www.strobist.com before we continue. Mr. David Hobby explained a lot of important basic strobist stuffs that you need to learn to understand strobist photography quickly. But basically, you will use a flash that's placed not on the camera to light your subject and you will control both the flash exposure and the background exposure until you get the right balance that you need for the photo.
  

Basics

Now before we continue, keep in mind that we're also talking about traveling. That means everything has to be very compact; keeping the gear weight as low as possible, because you are traveling with someone else with schedules that are mostly not photographic, and probably photography also isn't the main purpose of the travel. As with general travel photography, this means minimal gear, minimal weight, and trading gear quality with convenience at some level but for the purpose of producing reasonably high quality photographs that is still much better than your average travel photographs. I know, it kind of contradicts, right? Trading gear quality and high quality photographs? We're talking about traveling light with your light, bear with me on that...
  
Obviously, with strobist photography we are usually doing environmental portraits. That means, moderate-to-normal wide angle focal length, full-to-half body portraits with nice scenery as backgrounds. We are talking about 28mm to 50mm focal length on full frame equivalent on our lens here. We will very rarely do tight portraits during travel, because we want to include the scenery to better tell the travel experience for the photo viewer. We can always do the bokeh thingy later at home, there is no use of doing bokeh thingy during travel, it's a waste of nice scenery.
  
And there's a special note on the light that you must understand. As much as I love and adore soft light for the ultimate environmental portrait results, and even if the Lighting 101 on www.strobist.com suggests you to start with a shoot-thru umbrella as a soft modifier, we are NOT going to use any modifier at all. We are going to shoot hard light, bare flash, no modifier, straight into our subject.
     
I repeat, NO MODIFIER!
  
Ouch! This will contradict what you learned in www.strobist.com. However, whether you like it or not, we are going to learn to light with just a single hard light as our key light. Call me crazy, call me names, curse at me, and spit on me if you like! This might not be for you, but I've done it and to my taste the result isn't bad at all. Keep in mind: we are "traveling light with your light".
  

Gear

For our camera choice, ultimately we want a leaf-shutter-equipped camera like the Fuji X100 series, Panasonic LX100, or similar cameras. Most of them will have built in lens(except Hasselblad or Phase One medium format cameras), due to the shutter mechanism of a leaf shutter system, but these leaf-shuttered cameras can sync your flash at incredibly high shutter speed and make your flash appear more powerful in your images, so that's where the advantage of a leaf shutter cameras lies. But if you don't have one, no sweat, we can still find some work-around with the regular focal plane shutter to squeeze the most out of your light. It goes without saying that you need to have a camera that has a fully functional hotshoe, otherwise you can't conveniently use off camera flash on outdoor situation. For me, I personally use the Panasonic LX100 as my leaf shutter camera, but I do this kind of strobist setup also with my Panasonic GX8, Olympus E-PL6(already sold), and the good old Panasonic GX7 too, with little to no problem at all.
   
For the lens, as with all environmental portrait, we will have something in the range of 24mm to 50mm on full frame. Fix lens camera with single focal length like the Fuji X100 or Sony RX1 will do fantastic job as they both have 35mm equivalent lens. The 28mm equivalent on Fuji X70 will also be a good choice, provided that you are willing to get closer a bit to your subject or willing to have wider field of view. Panasonic LX100 also comes with 24-75mm equivalent lens built in, which makes it an even better option as you can zoom to alter your perspective and field of view, albeit with slightly smaller M4/3 sensor which isn't bad at all compared to APS-C offerings. As for the aperture, f/2.8 is the minimum if you are planning to shoot low light, but if you only shoot during daytime, then definitely f/4.0 will be enough. Even f/5.6 is still usable for bright daylight shooting, plus you get good depth of field at wide open already. I don't recommend anything tighter than 40mm because of the technique that we will use for this minimalist traveling strobist setup, which I will explain later.
   
For your flash to camera connection, I can only suggest wireless transceivers. OCF cords are big, bulky, and will eat some space/weight. Though they are highly reliable, they aren't necessary for what we're going to do. So just stick with wireless transceivers, and don't go for the big bulky ones even if the transceivers will have tons of features. Go with the smaller ones, as long as they are reliable, you are good to go. My personal recommendation are Phottix Strato Multi II if you have the budget. Or YongNuo RF603 II if you want to save some money. I'd lean more toward the YongNuo RF603 II, for a reason that I will explain below.
    
As for the light, I suggest find something that isn't terribly large, but with enough punch to fight the sun. No need to go for any High Speed Sync flash, or TTL-compatible flash, we don't need those features and you don't want to spend a fortune on them as well. A regular manual speedlight with decent enough output and good reliability will be more than enough to do the job. I personally use YongNuo flashes like the 560IV, 560EX, 510EX, which are all more than enough for what we do. I prefer the 560IV because it has built in transceivers inside, and this unit is compatible with they YongNuo RF603 II, thus eliminating the need to place a receiver unit on the flash and save some weight and space. If you already use the RF603 II, you are lucky! In case you haven't figured it out yet, that's the reason why I use the RF603 II!
    

My Personal Kit

As you already can tell from what I said previously, my kit consists of a Panasonic LX100, a pair of YongNuo RF603 II transceivers, and a YongNuo 560IV speedlight. Sometimes I need to decrease my depth of field, so I also carry a 3-stop screw on ND and increase my aperture to get the job done and to double as a video ND to get to my frame rate shutter speed. Alternatively, a 1 stop CPL will replace the 3-stop ND to act as a small-power ND if I don't need to kill that much light, and to double as reflection reducer. I just need to make sure that I don't forget to bring my step up ring for the filters, and those are all I need.
     
   
I can easily store these compact strobist kit in a small bag like the ONA Bowery. Or if I wear my short cargo pants, I'll store all of them in the pockets. I'll keep one of the RF603 II attached to the LX100 all the time, and another one just for backup. As I mentioned above, the YN560IV has the built in transceivers function that's compatible with the RF603 II, so I don't need to attach the other RF603 II to the flash.
   
     
Alternatively, I could replace the leaf-shutter-equipped LX100 with a regular focal plane shutter camera if I need to use specialized lens. I'm pretty sure most of you don't have a leaf shutter camera, so this setup will work for your current setup. On the picture above, I use a GX7 with 20mm f/1.7(40mm equivalent) instead of the LX100. A 3-stop ND filter is a must for this setup, because you will need to drop down that shutter speed to get your flash to sync with your camera with the highest shutter speed possible. Thankfully, the YN560IV is still powerful enough to compensate for the 3-stop ND, all you need to do is just increase the power of the flash by 3 stop.
     
 
     
And the picture above is my compact strobist kit, complete with an 8" Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 tablet for quick JPEG editing and sharing(thank goodness for the Wifi and in-camera-RAW in the LX100!!), a small notepad, some pens and writing tools, a pair of earphones, and a battery bank; all fits well in the small ONA Bowery, and all ready for some action.
   
BTW some quick tip, Lightroom Mobile and Photoshop Express are the best image processing apps for JPEG. If you need to edit RAW, then I suggest you to add the PhotoMate R3 for basic RAW editing, export the JPEG from PhotoMate, and further process the image with Lightroom Mobile and Photoshop Express.
   

Technique

Now that we covered all the gears required, it's time to discuss what matters the most: how to do it. I will cover this in three areas: Exposure, Light Angle, and Composition. Shooting with flash will require you to think of an image as a combination of two different exposures:
1. The exposure of the ambient light, affecting the background or the scenery that doesn't get the light from the flash.
2. The exposure of the flash itself, affecting the area that you point your flash at, in this case it's usually your subject.
     
In the next steps, I'm assuming that we are shooting during bright daylight when the sunshine is very abundant which is the time when photographing a subject with a nice scenery will be very difficult without the help of a flash.
   
First, we want to make sure that the combination between the two exposures are perfectly balanced, and that you are not letting any of these two exposures go way too high or way too low. You can of course slightly overexpose or slightly underexpose on purpose if you want, this might give you a slightly more artistic look that you want.
   
Furthermore, we are shooting without modifier, and in my experience, hard light doesn't go well with scenery that is too underexposed compared to the subject. Hard light doesn't have the quality that can add to the overall surreal element of the picture that is often associated with such underexposed-background image style. If you try to underexpose your background too much, it'll look more like an instant backdrop-photo-booth than a high quality strobist image. So, I recommend the scenery to be exposed perfectly at 0EV.
  
Second step, let's brush up our flash photography exposure theory very quickly.
1. Aperture affects both ambient exposure and flash exposure.
2. ISO affects both ambient exposure and flash exposure.
3. Shutter speed only affects ambient exposure.
4. Flash power only affects flash exposure.
(hidden rule: ND filter affects both ambient exposure and flash exposure, according to how powerful the ND is)
  
Next, if you are using a leaf shutter camera, then you will have little to no problem with getting the flash and ambient exposure to work together. If you have normal focal plane shutter camera, skip to the next section. Here's how I do it with leaf shutter camera:
1. Set your flash exposure on 1/8 power.
2. Set your camera exposure with ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/1000 second. During bright daylight, this will usually nail the exposure of the sky at +1EV according to Sunny 16 rule, but the surface will be right at 0EV, which is what we want.
3. Without turning on the flash, test the exposure on the camera first, and see how the scenery looks like. If it's too dark, change the shutter speed to 1/500. If it's too bright, go down to ISO 100.
4. Now turn on your flash, and shoot your subject with your flash aimed to him/her from 45 degree upper left or upper right at about 40cm away from your subject. Hold your flash using your left hand and aim as best as you can, or if you have someone to assist you, ask them to hold the flash for you. Check how the picture turns out to be with the flash being added. If the subject is too bright, dial down the power on the flash to 1/16, and if the subject is too dark, set the power to 1/4.
5. Alternatively, if both the scenery and the subject is either too bright or too dark, you can compensate by adjusting the aperture or ISO. Go to f/4 if everything is too dark, and go to f/8 if everything is too bright. Alternatively, if your lens can't go faster than f/5.6, go to ISO 100 if everything is too bright, and go to ISO 400 if everything is too dark.
   
Here's how I do it with regular focal plane camera and with a 3 stop ND:
1. Screw on a 3 stop ND filter in front of your lens.
2. Set your flash exposure on FULL power.
3. Set your camera exposure with ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/125 second. During bright daylight, this will usually nail the exposure of the sky at +1EV according to Sunny 16 rule, but the surface will be right at 0EV, which is what we want.
4. Without turning on the flash, test the exposure on the camera first, and see how the scenery looks like. If it's too dark, change the shutter speed to 1/60. If it's too bright, go down to ISO 100 or f/8.0.
5. Now turn on your flash, and shoot your subject with your flash aimed to him/her from 45 degree upper left or upper right at about 40cm away from your subject. Hold your flash using your left hand and aim as best as you can, or if you have someone to assist you, ask them to hold the flash for you. Check how the picture turns out to be with the flash being added. If the subject is too bright, dial down the power on the flash to 1/2 or 1/4. With focal plane shutter and full power flash, you can only increase flash power by bringing in the flash closer to the subject, as dictated by Inverse Square Law.
6. Alternatively, if both the scenery and the subject is either too bright or too dark, you can compensate by adjusting the aperture or ISO. Go to f/4 if everything is too dark, and go to f/8 if everything is too bright. Alternatively, if your lens doesn't go to f/4, compensate the ISO instead and go to ISO 100 if everything is too bright, and go to ISO 400 if everything is too dark.
   
Composition wise, we are talking about environmental portrait, so we need to balance the scenery with the subject as best as we could, so that both are complementing each other in the composition . I usually go with rule of thirds and just use 1/3 for the subject and 2/3 for the scenery. It usually works. Alternatively, you can also use more negative space, or go the opposite direction and have your subject stands out more in the picture. A matter of taste, it's your call. Experiment with many different look to get the best result.
    
Light-angle wise, I would recommend severe side lighting to achieve Rembrandt light so that you can get more dimension out of your subjects. That means you can fire the speedlight anywhere between 45 to 90 degree horizontally, while keeping the light slightly higher than the height of the person. If the light is too on-axis, it'll look very fake and not pleasing at all because it is a hard light source without modifier. Also be cautious, Rembrandt light isn't always the best choice for lighting people with lots of wrinkles on his/her face(old people mostly), so use this technique carefully. But don't let this rule hinders you, experiment with your light angle often and see what works for you and what doesn't.
    

But I Need Soft Modifier!

Okay, if you insist, go get a Rogue FlashBender or similar bounce modifier. It's small, light, flat, portable, and it'll help to give you a slightly softer look from close range, and it'll help reducing harsh shadow and make fall-offs more gradual. It's gonna eat some flash power though, so keep that in mind!
     
Here are some examples of what you can achieve with this technique and set of gears:

   
       
          
         
That's all for this post, I hope you find this Traveling Light With Your Light post helpful, and if you like it please share it with your friends. Thank you, and God bless you!


  
  

Thursday, March 17, 2016

How I Shoot It #6: Partial Solar Eclipse Using Micro Four Thirds

Hello everyone, today I'm back with another "How I Shoot It" post. This time I want to share a bit of astro-photography that I do sometimes with Micro Four Thirds. As you know, recently there's a Solar Eclipse that happened here in Indonesia last week, and I photographed the whole thing from start to finish.

So here you go, the partial solar eclipse pictures:
      
    
     
 
   
 
   
 
   
As you can see, I took a whole bunch of sun pictures on that day, and although I can't really get any detail out of the sun, I'm quite happy with the result. All of these pictures are taken using my Panasonic GX7 and Panasonic Lumix 100-300mm f/4.0-5.6 G Vario lens, with a bunch of some others stuff that I will mention later.
  

Camera Settings

f/5.6 at the beginning of the eclipse when it's still early in the morning, f/8.0-f/11.0 at the peak of the eclipse, and f/16 at almost the end of the eclipse, when the sun is bright. Shutter speed is always around 1/4000 or 1/8000. ISO is always 200, can't risk 100 because of the lack of dynamic range at that ISO for the GX7, which you will need to recover some detail from the sun should the light gets unpredictable.
   

IMPORTANT! I used 10-12 stops worth of ND filters to cut down the light entering the camera. The particular ones that I used were the Lee Big Stopper 10 stop, and a couple of Hitech 2 stops graduated ND. YOU WILL NEED TO USE ND FILTER, or some other type of light blocking device, or even A PROPER SOLAR FILTER. OTHERWISE, YOU COULD RISK DAMAGING YOUR CAMERA SENSOR WITH SUCH BRIGHT LIGHT, EVEN WITH F/22 ISO 100 1/8000S!!

   
This is my GX7 with the 100-300mm and the multiple ND filters that I attached to get a reasonable exposure setting on my camera. Hardcore stuff, isn't it? :p
  
I zoomed all the way to 300mm(that's 600mm full frame) using the GX7, and I sadly had to shoot JPEG because I need to use the 2x and 4x digital teleconverter, which unfortunately only available in JPEG. If your lens can get longer than 600mm eq, you won't need to shoot in JPEG. Always shoot RAW for situations like this!
  

Technique

Tripod! ND Filters! Ultra long telephoto lens! You can still skip the tripod if you feel ballsy, but don't skip on the other two when shooting solar eclipse!
  
Actually, there's not a lot of technique being involved here, it's all just about getting the right exposure and nailing the focus. I use single AF on the GX7 and it worked well. You just have to point the AF point to the contrasty edge of the sun's periphery to get a lock on the sun.
  
Composition wise, fill the frame. Crop if you need too, use digital tele-converter if you must, get as close as possible to filling the frame. Afterwards, you can always fill the frame with negative space later on in the post, because right now you want to "savor" as much of the sun to fill up your sensor, so you won't regret it later.
  
Keep in mind, the earth is rotating, so you'll see the sun "moves" from the east to the west slowly(in fact it's the earth that rotates). This effect gets very pronounced especially when you are shooting with an ultra long telephoto lens. Therefore, be ready to follow the sun and catch it in your composition. Lock your camera down in a tripod, and move the head slowly everytime the sun is at the edge of your frame.
  
Post processing, add some contrast and clarity to the file until you can clearly see the sun spots. The sun spots are the black spots on the sun's surface. At this point you are shooting at small aperture and you will risk showing dust on the sensor, and both dust spots and sun spots look almost the same. The only way to know which one is which, is by shooting the sun multiple times while changing the framing a little bit. If the spots are moving as you move the framing, then they are the sun spots. If they don't move, they're the dust spots, clean them using clone tool.
  

How to improve?

This is one of the situation where gear really matters. I really wish I have the highest megapixel count that I can have, I really wish I have longer lens, I really wish my ND filters aren't eating a bit of the sharpness, gear gear, gear, gear! Laugh at me, call me gear nerds, but you're shooting at the limits of what our cameras can do, and at this point gear does matter.
  
I also wish I was shooting this from the city where I could see total eclipse instead of the partial eclipse that I encountered in my city. But if I did so, I'll have to make a bet that the weather on that particular city will be cloud free at that time. I was about to make the call and go to Palembang city so I can get the total eclipse from there, but fortunately I made the right choice by staying here because it was super cloudy during the eclipse day.
  
I could improve the composition a bit by adding a foreground which will be silhouetted for sure, like the first photo on this post where I put leaves and branches of a tree as my foreground. Unfortunately, as the sun went higher and higher, I need to get closer to the tree to get the leaves and branches as my foreground, and if I focus on the foreground, the sun will just turn into a giant white blob that doesn't look like an eclipse. I tried focusing to the sun, and the foreground just disappeared into a messy grey mist in front of the sun. So it didn't work at that time, but I could try with branches or leaves that are more far away. Or I could probably use a faraway building's rooftop too.
  
That's all for today's post. I hope you enjoy this post, and stay tune for more! Cheers and God bless you!
   

Friday, March 4, 2016

How I Shoot It #5: Low-Key Stuffed Animal, Strobist

Hello everyone, today I'm back with a new "How I Shoot It" post to share my techniques on shooting off camera flash with small products indoor. The photo that I used today is a photo of small stuffed animal/plush toy that I have that's lying around in my house. On this post, we will be exploring my take on off camera flash/strobist shooting technique that was very popularized by David Hobby. You can check out http://strobist.blogspot.com for more info on that.
  
Anyway, here is the photo for today's post.
  
  
This picture of the plush toy was taken sometime around 2015, using either the GX7 or the GX8 (I can't remember, sorry). This photo is all about small product photography, indoor(studio), with off camera flash technique. So, pay attention if this is what you'll need to shoot.
   

Let's analyze this photo

Camera Settings Mumbo Jumbo

f/5.6, 1/250s, ISO 200. Lens was at 25mm for sure (that's 35mm in APS-C, or 50mm in full frame). Make sure that if you shoot the picture without the flash turned on, all is black and dark. This is the most important key-point in shooting low key photographs.
  

Lighting Mumbo Jumbo

There are two lights that were being used in this photo, the first one, a YN510EX was the main light on upper-left of the camera, the other was behind the subject. The main light was modified using Rogue FlashBender, and the back light is gelled using some red transparency paper.
   
The main light is rated at 1/32 power, and the back light is rated at around 1/64 power. I'm placing the lights fairly close to the subject, and the closer the light is to the subject, the more light it will put to the subject. Inverse square law, guys! You can't run from physics, ha! Balance the power as needed, adjust until the subject is perfectly exposed.
   
All flashes were zoomed moderately to 50mm, even the main light which is diffused using the FlashBender, so that it's easier to feather the light.
  

Technique

The main light was handheld using my left hand, while my right hand held the camera. This is how I shoot with single off camera flash most of the time by the way, all handheld and I avoid using light stand whenever possible, to help with run-and-gun situation. FlashBender isn't the softest light modifier in the world, but it's the easiest one to use for run-and-gun situations. And for this small product photography, it's large enough that it mimics the characteristic of a large soft box for small subjects. The plush toy is barely larger than the FlashBender, which makes the FlashBender very soft relative to this plush toy. And at this distance, with the inverse square law, it gets even softer for this close-range light setup.
  
Aim the main light by slowly moving it around, changing its angle ever-so-slightly all the time, until the main light isn't hitting your surrounding. This is very important, since you don't want the main light to bounce from any walls from your room. Hence, make sure the distance between the subject and the nearest wall is as far as possible!
   
For the back light, just place it on a surface behind the subject and hide it so that it won't show on your frame. Keep it zoomed in or gobo-ed so that it's not causing unnecessary flares on your frame, unless you intentionally want the flare, your call. The back light will help to separate the edges of your subject from the dark background by creating some sort of rim light. I personally love this rimmed light look on the subject, it's just so pleasing in my opinion.
 
Composition wise, fill the frame or add as much negative space as possible, your call. Rule of thirds will help if you decide to add negative space. Don't clip any part of the subject, unless you intentionally want to do so. Look around for the shadow, and decide if you need to cut the shadow in the frame, or just let them all be in the frame to add some tension to your picture.
 

Post Processing

Not much, with speedlights for lighting, you can pop the photo significantly that it doesn't require anything to post process. I further popped the photo by adding slight contrast, adding just around +20 clarity, and a slight vibrance to the photo in Lightroom. I also added a little bit of noise reduction to make sure that my black-low-key area isn't grainy. That's all.
 

How to Improve?

I was shooting this photo in my bedroom. It's an okay sized room, but the walls are quite close to each other and to my subject. I struggled so much to avoid light bouncing all over the frame, so I have to keep moving the main light(FlashBender'ed speedlight)'s angle a few times while shooting until I found that one perfect moment where there's no bounced light on the photo.
 
I could definitely shoot in a larger room, and be free of such trouble. And thus making it faster for me to shoot and saving me from a lot of unused frames.
 
Apart from that, I am quite happy with this photo as of right now. If you have any suggestion on how to make this photo better, let me know in the comment section below.
 
That's all for today's "How I Shoot It" post, I hope this post is useful for you, and please leave any comments if you have questions or things to say. Cheers and God bless you :)