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I wanted to set up a mobile studio so that I could take portraits in clients homes and also 'pop-up' a quick studio at weddings, parties and other events. I have tried using speed lights (flash guns) but they tend to be quite expensive and a bit underpowered if used with diffusers and modifiers. For example the top end Canon speed light, the 600EX, costs close to £400. Battery operated flash guns can also take 5 seconds or more to recycle when used at full power and often the best image occurs shortly after a first shot. This means many are missed or hopelessly under exposed in the remaining ambient light. (Sound familiar?)
For the cost cost of a single speed light I invested in a pair of Elinchrom D-Lite One studio strobes and when bought as a kit you get stands, soft boxes and a wireless trigger. I won't say much about setting them up and using them as this is covered very well by them and others on You tube and elsewhere. Suffice to say they are very flexible and easy to set up and seem to have plenty of power. At around 2m from the subject I was able to use f11 at 200ASA from a single light, with the soft box fitted. My old flashguns are not redundant however as I use them for hair lights and fill-in lights. Set to 1/8th power they recycle fast enough to keep up with the mains lights. To use them however you need to buy an optical remote flash trigger. (The last one I bought was less than £10 on Amazon but be careful to get one compatible with your speed light. The hot shoe on some optical triggers has too much metal around the central contact and this shorts the other control contacts. With Canon flashes you will get a single flash and then it won't work again until you remove it from the hot shoe again.)
My first assignment with these lights was to capture portraits of two smashing kids, aged 3 and 1. When photographing children it is recommended that you use fairly flat lighting. Deep shadows may look good on grownups but they just look wrong on young children, unless of course they are playing the vilan in a school play. I placed the two soft boxes above and 45 degrees either side of the subject. I set the power levels within half a stop of each other.
This was one of the first images taken with these lights and I am very pleased with the results. A reflector might have softened the shadows under the chins but I think the light is already 'flat' enough.
For this second image I added a speed light set at 1/8th power high and behind to the left to provide a highlight to the hair. With a subject that has fair hair, it can be difficult to get enough contrast and therefore interest to the hair. You could add another light behind the subject to provide a rim light but with young children their attention span is finite and there wasn't time to experiment. They did give me more than 80 images to select for the client and we had a fun time as well!
The studio flashes were triggered from the Skyport transmitter included in the kit. This fits in the hot shoe of the camera. http://www.elinchrom.com/product/D-Lite-RX-ONE.html
The speed lights were triggered from the studio flash using an optical trigger. (Amazon: NEEWER® FC-8N Hot Shoe Flash Wireless Optical Slave Trigger)
The other day I visited a local pub to see my brother-in-law sing and play guitar with the house band at a jam night and I thought it would be a good opportunity to try out my new Olympus 45mm f1.8 lens in the low light conditions. With subjects that move, having image stabilisation doesn't help much because it doesn't stabilise people. The only solution then is to use a fast lens (wide aperture) and high ISO speed. The problem then is depth of field and image noise.
I know that the lens has been highly acclaimed by reviewers but I wanted to see how it would perform under real conditions. You can see from the images below that even at 1/125s, f2.0 ISO 3200. The image is solid enough to read the name 'Sennheiser' on the side of the microphone! I decided to use the B&W art filter in my OMD-EM10 to give the pictures a gritty, NME feel but as you can see from the crop of the microphone, it wasn't actually necessary.
The other nice thing about this lens is that it is a modest telephoto. This makes it ideal for portraits and for getting in a bit closer to the action, such as at a jam night like this. It is designed for 'micro four thirds' sensor cameras which means that it is the equivalent of a 90mm lens on a 35mm SLR. Given that it is one of the cheapest lenses I own, I too am impressed with its performance.
For some time now I have been experimenting with remotely triggered flash guns to achieve different effects and I was at a friend's daughter's Christening the other day and I decided try and capture some people dancing against back light. In this case I used a couple of Canon flashguns, one on the camera as the master and another placed on the disco stage in slave mode. Admittedly this is an expensive solution but for about £20 you can buy a Chinese wireless transmitter and receiver on Amazon (Yongnuo RF-603 and similar) and achieve the same effect.
For this picture I noticed this girl was jumping to the music while holding a balloon. The flash has illuminated the balloon and the outline of her hair, and by underexposing the rest of the image she becomes just a silhouette. Lastly, I placed an orange gel filter in front of the flash gun so the colour of the light was in keeping with the rest of the scene. (flash guns tend to produce rather blue light when compared to indoor lighting).
The classic application of this technique is for a bride and groom's first dance.