In the recent past we covered basic three point lighting for portraits and basic five point lighting. That’s all well and good if you have a space big enough for a studio and can afford the equipment. But what do you do when you’re just starting out and can’t afford all that? Or you have to choose between portrait lighting and your kid’s braces? There are also many situations where you want to shoot fast and scoot along without the overhead of setting up big lights.
Today I thought it would be fun to put together an ultra-el cheapo, one light, hand-held system that will still take a decent portrait and try to keep the price tag below $100. Here’s what I came up with and today’s prices.
Yongnuo YN-467 Flash (I had one of these left over from another article) $76.65
That all comes to $91.67. I picked the components for value, price and versatility. The umbrella you can use as a shoot-through or shoot turn the flash around and shoot into it. It yields a nice soft light that works surprisingly well for portraits.
No flash sync cable or wireless controllers this time, neither one was in the budget. To make it work off-camera, I’m going to set the flash power manually and use my camera’s built-in flash to trigger the external flash in slave mode. But to keep the built-in flash from taking over, I’m going to shoot in Program mode, manual flash operation, and crank the flash exposure compensation down to -2 ⅔.
Now the built-in flash is way underexposed but still bright enough to fire the slave trigger so most of the usable light is coming from the external flash, but there’s still enough from the built-in flash to fill in some of the shadows without being too harsh.
The flash bracket is the type that can be mounted on a flash stand, which you can pick up for around $20.
Since I already have a flash stand I’m going to use it even though that, technically, puts me over budget. I could just as easily hand-hold it or get someone to hold it for me, so I’m claiming the $100 price point victory anyway!
Okay, fellow cheapskates, show me what you got. Let’s see how many of you can beat my $100 rig on price and quality.
One of the most common ways to build up your portfolio as a wedding photographer is to start out as a second shooter for someone else. While you won’t make a lot of money, you will learn a lot about taking wedding photos.
If you want to work as a second shooter for the primary photographer there are a few things to remember both in terms of preparation and the actual shoot. Since it’s been a while since I shot a wedding, I decided to hook up again with Karl Leopold and tag along as the second shooter at a beach wedding in Cocoa Beach.
I’m going to be honest here and admit I made some mistakes, mostly because I haven’t done it in a while and because I use my DSLR a lot for video. My mistakes will help you avoid doing the same thing.
On this shoot Karl was using a Canon 5D MK II with a Canon 580 EX ii while I was shooting a Canon 7D and an off-brand speedlite. One of the mistakes I made early on was trying to lock my ISO at what Karl was using for consistency. A crop sensor camera with a long lens simply can’t shoot at the same ISO as a full frame sensor, which has much better response in mixed light. That was one of those moments you ask yourself later what you were thinking.
What To Wear
Unless otherwise specified, you’ll almost always be okay wearing black slacks and a black button-down shirt. For an outdoor or beach wedding you can usually get away with khakis and lighter colors.
We were at a beach wedding and while the guests were barefoot, I don’t recommend that when you’re working. One stray metal scrap will put you on the sidelines. Wear shoes, but not dress shoes which don’t do well in sand.
Arrive early, particularly if you’ve never shot at that venue before. Use the time to get your angles and exposure settings.
If you’re working with a top-notch wedding planner, the venue will be ready well in advance. Introduce yourself to the venue, support staff and other vendors but don’t take them off task. Everyone there has a job to do besides you.
In the off chance the primary photographer is late, be prepared to step in and shoot some of the preliminary shots. Traffic happens, accidents happen, so even as the second shooter you have to be prepared to do the entire job. If something happens to the primary, it’s all you. Hope that never happens, but approach every job like it could.
Focus On Your Assigned Coverage Area
Mine was crowd shots, candids of the wedding party and guests, and to shoot the diagonals on the ceremony because I had a longer lens.
There’s no point in having two good photographers shooting the same shots. I did a couple times on this shoot, only so I could show you the setups and resulting shots. Otherwise, as second shooter, be out looking around for other shots. If the primary is busy with the bride and groom, grab some shots of the family and kids. Take pictures of little details that can get lost in the rush, those shots can add a lot to the memories of the day.
You’re Not The Only Person Working That Day
There are a lot of people working at weddings, including other vendors. At this wedding we had a video guy besides the wedding coordinator. Give others room to work and try not to be banging away with a flash when the video people are trying to get their set shots.
Also be aware that the video shooter will likely have a wide covering shot running somewhere, try to walk behind that camera whenever possible. Give other professionals room to work and they’ll give you room to get your shots. It will all get done.
Remember Who You Represent
Keep in mind as the second shooter you are representing the primary photographer. Your shots are going out under their name and they’re responsible for you. This is not the time for showboating or self-promotion. I always carry one or two business cards of the primary photographer and if one of the guests asks for a card, that’s the one I hand out.
If other vendors ask for your card, that’s a little different. Then it’s okay as they usually already know the primary photographer.
Who Owns The Shots?
When you’re shooting second camera normally the photos belong to the primary and go out under their name. Don’t expect any residuals on the prints or reorders. If you need the photos for your portfolio or other uses, clear that in advance with the primary. After the shoot is not the time to try and negotiate ownership and usage rights!
The idea here is not to undercut the person you’re working for. In most areas the vendors all know one another and treating someone poorly will get around in a hurry. No person is an island in a small business and you may find yourself someday needing the people you treated badly.
On the other hand, shoot well, conduct yourself like a professional and be responsible and you may find a lot of photographers appreciate what a good second shooter can bring to the table. All the while you’ll be learning from the best and building a portfolio you can be proud to show off.
Understanding the difference between megapixels, megabytes and DPI is one of those subjects that makes people glaze over sometimes because it’s technical. But, if you’re angling to make money from photography or do it for a living, it’s important to understand what the terms mean and the difference it makes in your photos. So, while I realize a pictorial of hot models in skimpy clothing is how you’d rather be spending your time, I’m going to try to make this discussion as fun and interesting as humanly possible.
Probably the most ridiculously overused comparison in digital cameras today, and the camera manufacturers go along with it because it’s not worth the effort trying to explain why it’s not always a fair comparison. Comparing cameras by their megapixel rating is like my wife picking a new car because she likes the color. The number of megapixels has very little to do with the quality of the final image. Color, tone and sharpness will have far more sway over the quality of the final image, which is one of the reasons the highest rated cameras are all over the road when it comes to the megapixel rating of the sensor.
The difference in megapixels does effect the resolution of the final image, but even that is a geometric comparison and not a linear scale. The number of pixels increases by the square of the resolution. If you double the resolution of an image, you quadruple the number of pixels.
If you’re comparing a 5 megapixel camera, like your cell phone, with the 10 megapixel Sony TX300v, you now know that does not mean the 10 megapixel camera is twice as good. In fact, the difference in resolution is just 1.4 x in either dimension. Not so great now, is it?
So when considering the difference between a 16 megapixel camera and a 19 megapixel camera, the difference is nearly insignificant. Other factors in camera and lens quality can erase such a small difference.
Where megapixels do matter is the image size, the more megapixels, the bigger the final image. That says nothing about the quality. A large blurry image through a bad lens is still a bad picture no matter how large it is.
If you’re just looking at your own pictures on a display device, it’s not an issue. If you’re hoping to sell stock photography, it becomes more important because many stock photo companies set minimum image sizes.
A megabyte is a measure of digital storage, the same as it’s applied to any digital storage. How large an image is is loosely related to the final image size, but every image file is a little different based on a large number of factors including the compression type (JPEG vs RAW).
Dots per inch is only relevant to a discussion of a printer or other display device. Outside of printers, you can pretty much forget about DPI. In the old days if you changed the picture DPI, your editing software would automatically resize the print output. These days if you tell Photoshop you want a 5×7 and change the DPI, you’ll still get a 5×7 print.
In photography it’s all about the resolution and resolution is measured in megapixels, but that isn’t necessarily significant unless the difference is very large. There would be a noticeable difference between an 8-megapixel camera and a 12-megapixel camera, the difference between 12 and 16-megapixels would not be as significant, if it were even noticeable.
Valentine’s Day presents an opportunity to experiment with a really old-fashioned light source; it’s one of those days a lot of people choose candlelight.
There’s something visceral about fire in the human psyche and candles provide a single, pure pinpoint of fire that is both warm and intimate at the same time. You know you’re a real photo geek when a romantic candlelight dinner inspires you to break out the camera and tripod!
One of the really amazing things about new digital DSLRs is their low light performance. Just a few years ago trying to light exclusively by candlelight meant risking a house fire. Today even APS-C sensors like the Nikon D7000 or Canon 7D (compare) can yield decent results in low light and full frame cameras like the Canon 5D MK II and Nikon D700 (compare) can shoot in extremely low light.
Don’t Worry About Noise
This is one time you can forget about the ISO. Most digital cameras start showing low light artifacts anywhere over ISO 800. But candlelight portraits are one instance when the noise can actually add to a photo, so don’t be afraid to experiment with higher ISOs. If the pictures are too noisy you can always add more candles.
Use a Tripod
Trotting out a tripod for some candid shots may not be the most romantic gesture, but it’s still better than hand-holding at slow shutter speeds. Even a gelled fill flash will spoil the effect, so there’s no real option here.
I wouldn’t go any lower than 1/15 of a second with a human subject as it’s hard for anyone to hold that still.
A white tablecloth actually works quite well as a natural reflector. A mirror will give you sharper shadows and strong directional lighting. Your standard photographic reflector clamped to a light stand will also come in handy to fill in the deeper shadows.
You can use aluminum foil over a piece of cardboard if you want a more irregular effect. If there’s a whiff of breeze, a flickering candle with an aluminum foil reflector can look like a campfire.
There are two ways you can go with candlelight photos: You can expose for the subject and overexpose the candle flame or you can expose for the candle flames and deliberately under-light the subject.
Try it both ways and try different combinations. You can sometimes use LED or incandescent bulbs as background light if you need more depth.
Do remember that a couple pictures of a special occasion is one thing, but a good photographer also knows when it’s time to hang up the camera and enjoy the moment.
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