Essential Lighting Tools – Light Panels

Photoflex light panel kit
A Photoflex light panel kit - by Photoflex

I’m always skeptical of people calling themselves “natural light photographers” because what I hear in my head is “too cheap to rent a studio”.  That’s until they start pulling out bag after bag of light panels and reflectors.

To me that’s natural light only in the sense you’re utilizing the hydrogen ion key light positioned 93 million miles from subject.  Otherwise, it’s the best of both worlds when it comes to lighting.

Light panels are handy in many situations and are light enough to pack around without feeling like a pack mule.

In the old days if I needed to soften sunlight coming through an office window it would involve a roll of fabric and some gaffer tape.  That still works, but these days a couple light panels will do the job without the tape and are useful in more situations.

If you’re doing a shoot at the beach and it’s going to be past 9 am, you’ll likely be needing light panels and a reflector.

Remember, when shooting at the beach, it can help a lot to cut some old tennis balls to fit over the feet of your panel, tripod and reflector stands.  You’ll also need some bags to make sandbags to weigh down the base if the wind picks up.

For those of you with the time and talent to make them yourself, light panels are an easy weekend DIY project.  PVC is cheap and you can always use an inexpensive shower curtain and a bag of clamps to hold it in place.  The only reason I like the aluminum frames better is PVC can get brittle over time and if you clamp down on the grip jaw you can break it.

For more information on using light panels:

Major Product Announcement From Canon In November

I’ll admit to being somewhat jaded by corporate media relations but the announcement from Canon about a major product announcement on November 3rd caught my attention.

Canon announcement

If you notice Canon is a little different about product announcements. For them, by the time they announce a product, it’s already on store shelves.

It’s rare that Canon ever makes this kind of production out of a product announcement, so photography and video professionals will be paying attention. The blog sphere is already alive with speculation.

Engadget speculated it could be an announcement of the new mirrorless camera lines hitting the shelves in time for the Christmas holidays, and the timing makes that a definite possibility.

WideOpenCamera thinks it’s an announcement about the rumored Canon 4K movie camera, and announcing that in Hollywood on the red carpet would make perfect sense.

DVFreelancer has a long-shot guess this is the long-awaited and oft-rumored 5D MKIII. Which would work from the holiday timing and Hollywood venue, but that would hardly qualify as “historic”, so I’m going with the 4K.

Whatever the product, Canon certainly has my attention. I’m just hope whatever it is lives up to the hype.  What do you think it is?

Photography Basics: The Rule of Thirds

Rule of Thirds
The Rule of Thirds for subject positioning - by Chaky

There’s a reason it’s called the “Rule of Thirds” and not the “Suggestion of Thirds” or the “Very Highly Recommended Concept of Thirds”.

Still, for the most part, photographers don’t like rules.  More to the point they like flouting them with reckless abandon.  Photographers are frequently the people climbing on street lights to try and get a better angle on the crowds, the ones hauling a ton of gear out into the wilderness at zero dark-thirty to catch that one moment of fabulous lighting, the ones climbing over the fence at the zoo because the frame of the bear exhibit is really better just a couple steps beyond the fence.

The relationship between artists and rules has always been tenuous and contentious at the best of times.  Yet the Rule of Thirds ranks right up there as one of the more time-tested concepts in composition, both in photography and in the art world long before photography came into existence.

The general concept is fairly straightforward: Divide the image frame into nine equal sections.  Position your subject at the intersection of the dividing lines.  Which one of the intersections will depend on what else is in the frame.

The horizon line can be higher or lower, depending on whether you want to focus attention on the foreground or the sky, anywhere but along the center line.

Subjects In Motion

If your subject is in motion, the Rule of Thirds changes somewhat as you want to give your subject room to move in the photograph.  Position the subject so their direction of motion is toward the open area of the picture.  If a subject is moving left to right, you generally don’t want to frame the subject in the lower right hand corner as it leaves the impression they’re running off the frame.

For every rule there are exceptions.  I have seen some pictures when a slow shutter speed was used and the subject positioned at the distant corner, relative to their direction of motion, to make it appear as if they were going so fast the camera could not pan fast enough to keep up with them.

So there are rules and then there are rules in photography.  Learn them, break them, find new ways to apply them to your own personal style.  At least no one is going to issue you a ticket for climbing on the street light.

How 9/11 Changed Photography

Photo of WTC site
9/11 transformed photographers into potential spies - By Andrea Booher

I remember exactly what I was doing and who told me about the planes hitting the towers.  I’d be willing to bet most of us remember what we were doing on that day 10 years ago.  Ironically, I was at a place where cameras weren’t allowed, so no one will get to see my shots of that day.

For photographers 9/11 changed the perception rather than the reality.  All of a sudden, someone taking pictures was suspicious behavior.  Security guards felt empowered to claim the sidewalks in front of their building, as if any public space was suddenly a terrorist target and photos were aiding the enemy.  We were no longer merely hobbyists or professionals pursuing our craft, we were potential spies.

Restrictions on photography started getting crazy as authorities at every level decided they had an obligation to do something to make themselves feel safer, even if that was something as useless as hassling photographers.  The world was paranoid on a massive scale and we were conveniently visible.

I was with a pool of photographers outside a court room one time shortly after the attack when one of several people complained to the police we were taking photos of the building.  The police, who knew us, patiently explained we were photographers and it was alright.  Not good enough for one older gentleman who continued to insist he should “check them out.”  Even though we were together in a group and all had press passes to work in that area.  Finally, the media rep from the city arrived and asked us to move out of the lobby to an area under the stairs, so we didn’t disturb people.  We were regulated to the status of trolls under the bridge, which I guess is better than spies.

Fortunately, in the last 10 years sanity has largely returned, although the sight of a camera still throws some low-level people with the IQ of a grapefruit into a security awareness tizzy.  It still can be problematic shooting at train stations and airports and the days of being able to camp at the end of the runway to shoot pictures of incoming planes are over in many places.  Some security guards are still trying to claim the sidewalk, but by and large, there are fewer people lunging at camera lenses.

Still, every so often I still hear a cop or security guard remind me that “everything changed after 9/11”.

Remember your legal rights as a photographer.

Do you have a post-9/11 photography paranoia story to share?  Had your camera equipment confiscated or had the police try to make you delete pictures?  Share it in the comments section.

Do You Have What It Takes?

Statue of Paparazzi - photo DMY
Paparazzi in Bratslava

I meet a lot of people who want to be professional photographers, though I’m not always certain what they see when looking at the profession from the outside.  Maybe they’re looking at the price they’re paying for a portrait sitting and thinking if they could do 10 a day, how much money they would be making!  Wooo!  Without insurance, overhead, taxes, and license fees any business looks easy.

Among the people who make it, there are some common characteristics.

Driven To Perfection

The people I know who made it as professional photographers are people who would have been out working on the technical aspects of photography, even if they weren’t getting paid for it.  They just can’t leave it alone.

The photographers who make it aren’t satisfied shooting portraits, they want to shoot the greatest portraits ever taken.  They care about getting the shot, but they want to get THE shot that captures the moment.

They’re Not In It For The Money

Many photographers are constantly on the verge of divorce trying to sneak new equipment past their spouses.  It’s an obsession they occasionally get paid for.  Most are making a fraction of what they could pull down at a regular day job.

A select few eventually get to the point they’re making a lot of money and among the top earners is a strata of photographers who have gotten rich off their craft.

According to the average income for a photographer in the U.S. is $53,705, which is right around the average income in the country.  That figure can vary widely, depending on the city you reside.  Photographers in L.A. and New York have significantly higher average salaries than other cities.

They’re Adaptable

For a long time after digital sensors were rivaling and even surpassing film quality, there was still a certain subset of photographers who insisted that film was the only pure form of the art.  Some schools still insist students learn film processing, even though it’s getting harder to even find the chemicals for processing.

Show me someone teaching film and I’ll show you someone who made their money in the 70’s and 80’s.

I don’t want to say film is dead, but it’s definitely sitting by itself in the corner of a nursing home.  If you want to make money in the business, you have to adapt to the current reality, whatever that may be.