Sunday, June 21, 2009

Think light, be the light...and then do something opposite

Spending 30-50 euros for an umbrella is not my way of having fun. Especially if the majority fails to deliver the goods.
So what can you do? Well, in case you didn't know, I live with 3 women: my wife and my 2 step daughters. Wonderful, the things they do and know! So when I bought two umbrellas for over 50 euro, I wasn't pleased, because they were small and not as good as the price. So I came up with another idea: in my town we have two Chinese stores where they sell all kinds of useless things. But: they sell them cheap!
So I bought a few umbrellas there for a "whopping" price of 2.5 euro a piece. Then I went to a local fabric store (you know, where women buy material to make dresses and such) and I saw just beautiful fabric made of gold, silver and satin white.... These materials you don't even find on an expensive photo umbrella and they're dirt cheap!
So what you do is, you first rip the plastic off the umbrella so you just have a frame left. Now it's time to call in the favors your wife owes you (or your daughter, neighbor, friends) and have them copy the layout of the plastic you ripped off the umbrella. Let them play and watch TV or keep reading until they're ready. Or you may want to "help" them, just to ensure they're doing it and not watching the other TV... I'm not good at this, because my umbrellas aren't ready yet. But it's over 35 C here and that's a good excuse.

Anyway I managed to make a few shots with the fabric draped over the umbrellas and I'm very happy. With the gold it's pretty easy to mimic a sunset, even if you live in Holland or England where nature has decided that the weather has to be rainy or overcast every day of the year...

What I also found out, is the best way to shoot with an umbrella is completely oppose to it. Not like Joe McNally or strobist are doing: either they shoot through the umbrella or they bounce off the inside of the umbrella. BOTH ARE WRONG and even, I might add in my arrogant mood, a little dumb...
Why? When do you use an umbrella? When you want light to be soft... very soft, right?
When you shoot through the umbrella, the light is diffused, but not so much as it could. When you shoot bouncing off the inside, you bounce at a parabolic like a satellite antenna. Guess what? It is made to concentrate at the middle, be it light, be it a radio or tv signal.
Now you turn it around and shoot at the top of the umbrella (where the rain falls) and the effect is reversed: the light bounces off the umbrella and is spread all over, leaving virtually no shadow at all !!
Here are some examples:
this is shot with normal ambient light coming through the window:

here the hard direct flash light:

this is shot with the golden umbrella, normal inside bounce:

now this is shot bouncing from the outside, the round side of the umbrella:

As you can see, the light is much softer and more evenly distributed. Like the light of a real sunset.

If you don't need a fake sunlight but a white or bright light, though still diffused, you can use this the same way for a white or silver umbrella. You'll still get much better light....

Leave a message if you have questions or comments.
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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Penny wise, pound foolish?

All photographers spend money. Bodies, lenses and flashes can easily set you back hundreds of dollars. But it doesn't end there; soon you want to control the light as much as possible. Sunlight might be to hard, for some shots you want a certain color added and others could use a spotlight.
Sure you can find snoots, diffusers and reflectors as long as you pay, but do they really work?
My Nikon SB900 flash came with a diffuser (not cheap to replace, I expect) and some gels to change the flash color. If you want more colors, you can order them...

It's almost painful to say, but there's a much cheaper way and it's even better than the Stofen diffuser or Nikon (or Canon) gels and bells and whistles. It's called: plastic cups and bottles!

Now if you, like me, like to keep both hands on the camera, you'll need something to hold the cups or bottles in front of the small BI (BI= build-in, so you know) flash. After several days of trying, shopping and frustration, I came up with these things:

Clothes pegs: simple and very cost effective. This was the first try, as you probably guessed ;-)
I just drilled a little whole in both, connected them with a screw so you still can turn it. The blue thing comes out of an old printer and is connected with crazy glue. You can slide it in the hotshoe of the camera. Perfect for small plastic cups and such, but not enough flexibility. So the next thing was this:

3 pieces of L shaped aluminum and a clothes peg. I made some slots, so you can adjust it according to the size of what ever you wish to fit in front of the BI flash. Don't forget to use insulation tape on the piece you stick in the hotshoe, or you might short circuit your camera!

Here are some pictures of how it looks with a few of the diffusers in front:

And here one with the snoot: very small spotlight:

Here's a small amount of examples that you can make for less than a dollar:

The black paper for a snoot is very thick and can be found in school supply stores, art supplies, etc. It's available in many colors, so it can also serve as reflectors. Plastic cups are amazing cheap and available. Test a variety of sizes and shapes. If it doesn't diffuse enough, just stick another on top! If the cup is to big: cut a piece off.
Instead of sticking expensive gels in front of your external or BI flash, you can safe more money by using a transparent plastic cup and put some colored transparency plastic paper over it: also available at school or art supply stores.

Now what effects can you expect? Here are some examples:

This one is made with a white coffee cup, where the bottom has been cut out.

A blue "gel" effect.

Red "gel" effect

Snoot spotlight effect

Make a smaller spotlight by moving the snoot further away from the flash or making a shorter, narrower version

Blue plastic stuck in front of a cup

Stopping down or a smaller aperture for this more dramatic effect

White cup with a piece of red transparency plastic gives this

The same, but here I put aluminum foil around the cup

Same but with black paper around the cup

Here are some examples of the external flash.

Pure flash without diffuser

Flash with the original Nikon diffuser. As you can see, it really doesn't do so much.

This one is made with a simple cup. The picture is a little bit darker, but it's also much softer lit. This can easily be adjusted by fitting a different cup or if you shoot raw, in PP.
The cup was round and the flash is rectangular. So the flash wants to pop off. You can prevent this, by using... a blow dryer! Just warm the cup with the blow dryer and then stick it on the flash. Be careful, don't get burned or toast your flash ;-)

I hope you enjoyed it. Feel free to comment and if you have better suggestions: by all means!

Next I hope to give you some cheap ideas on how to DIY the best reflectors for less money!

If you want to help me, help you, any donation is greatly appreciated!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Start shooting, ask questions later...

If you want to get as much out of your SLR and flash as possible, keep reading and bookmark or subscribe this page. It will be an ongoing tutorial about how you can make the most of both without breaking your back or bank ;-)

Most people have a problem with using their build-in flash, because basically: it sucks!
I thought so at least, until I invented a tiny simple device, that we'll simply call: The wonderful Bertram Paul Fantastic Light Diffuser.
Without it, the pictures you shoot with the BI flash, will have one or all of this:
1. Red eyes
2. Hard light
3. Hard shadows
4. Unwanted shadow of the lens

Just to name a few. WITH it, not only will you be able to overcome these horrible side effects, but you'll be able to control your light like a pro and even add extra colors and a spotlight function!
Before this was only possible with an expensive external flash and expensive add-ons, like gel-filters and -sets.
Now you can have all this for a few euros or dollars.
If by now I have your full and undivided attention, keep reading....