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Archive 2012 · I've done my research, but still have some questions
  
 
BenWitt
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · I've done my research, but still have some questions


First off, I am a college student right now and have done the majority of my shooting with available light and mainly sporting events. That being said, I want to start to improve with portraits and work with some lighting. One reason for looking into lighting now is because I will be in a new apartment next year with only one person and plenty of space for some basic studio shots to get experience (I can also always reserve a room on campus somewhere if I desire a larger space). Also I have been contracted to do 2 weddings this summer and one in the fall (the fall one is pending currently since I was just contacted last week) and where I have done 2 before (low budget family friends so it was a nice intro to the type of environment) I really want to smash these out of the park (if that reference works).
For reference I shoot with a Nikon D3 and D700 with lenses having constant apertures of 1.8 or 2.8 (easier than listing them all specifically)

Now, I have had a thought about which type of lighting to get (Strobes or hot shoe flashes, which I will call flashes for convenience) and am well aware of the advantages/disadvantages of each as far as power, recycle time, portability, etc. I was looking into some AlienBees (B800s specifically) and am looking for just a two light setup first. It looks like I could get a kit of B800s for about $750-800 if I remember correctly. Now if I don't have to spend $1000 I would rather not but I also don't want to be disappointed with my choice. So, as far as this section goes, would I notice much of a difference if I got the B400s keeping in mind my bodies and lenses?

Now, with that being said comes the idea of using flashes instead. With this option I am wondering if I would be ok using older SB-28s or the like or if I would be much happier with two of the current 700, 800, 900s.

There is a chance that I might want to try and take my new fangled lighting setup outside at some point (granted it would cost much more to use the strobes outside than the flashes with the needed addition of the battery pack) but I don't need to do so right away because I plan on getting a reflector as well to play with.

Now for a recap of the questions:
Would I see any noticeable difficulties with the cheaper B400s as opposed to the B800s?

Would I be happy with some SB-28s or older, cheaper Nikon flashes? Or should I go with one of the newer sets, and would the SB-700 be enough?

Also will I be disappointed with flashes over mono light strobes? (in terms of amount of light given my equipment)

I would like to keep everything wireless as well with some type of system (either PWs, or the TT1/TT5) so which would be better? (we have strobes in our gym and ice arena that I could use at some point for events but I could borrow PWs from a friend if someone suggests flashes with the TT1/TT5 setup)

Thanks for bearing with me while I try to spill my internal thoughts out on a piece of virtual paper. I sincerely thank anyone in advance for their thought on these questions and any answer you can give.



Mar 14, 2012 at 02:42 AM
williamkazak
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · I've done my research, but still have some questions


Inrteresting. First salvo; What/who are you shooting indoors and for what end? Why studio strobes if you are going to need a speedlight and a backup speedlight for weddings? Second, why waste money on wireless when you can cord it indoors or just use the built in Nikon system to sync at the wedding? If you are using a second speedlight on a stand on M, then any speedlight will do if you can get it synced.


Mar 14, 2012 at 03:48 AM
BenWitt
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · I've done my research, but still have some questions


I would be shooting portraits indoors and most likely continuing with portraits for clients once I get my feet wet. Also, I was thinking of possibly using the lighting setup for the wedding and for the "posed" shots. I don't think I would need anything during the ceremony or reception (from what the bride and groom have told me) so it would just be a possible application for the setup not necessarily a needed use, so I would be using the speedlights in place of the strobes in any case (although I do recognize the use of a hot shoe mounted light I just haven't had enough need in my work yet for one which is why I sold my SB-600 a little while ago because I wasn't ready to go for a whole setup but I wasn't using it at all to justify keeping it) I was thinking wireless for expansion in the future and (if it would be best for me to go with some pocket wizard transceivers) the possibility of using the strobes in our arenas without needing to borrow. Also I am familiar with the ability to use the on board flash of the D700 to fire flashes wireless if you are close enough but am not familiar with any way to do so with the D3 without added accessories.


Mar 14, 2012 at 03:59 AM
cgardner
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · I've done my research, but still have some questions


For the scope of work you've mentioned ideally you'd want both a pair of speedlights and 2-4 studio lights because speedlights while portable for things like covering wedding receptions lack power and modelings lights and studio gear, while now portable with battery/inverters is not something you'd carry around on a flash bracket.

Since your goal is to eventually do photography as a business operate like one. Sit down and realistically think about which of the two you could earn the most money with in the first year to be able to afford the other with the net profits after the expenses of the gear and a reasonable hourly rate for your time. You know who your potential clients might be, what types of photos they'd want, and that should tell you whether a pair of studio lights or speedlights would be the best initial investment. When I was in college I did photo journalism selling photos to the school paper first on a "free lance" basis and later getting assignments to cover events, do head shots of teachers / administrators, etc. It didn't pay much but created a lot of good contacts and helped me get selected to document an off-campus program for credit, which was much more fun than sitting on campus in classes. The only flash gear I had was a small hotshoe flash. I did some "studio" lighting in my dorm room with a pair of shop reflectors and 150W light bulbs.

As alternate to studio lights for portraits learn to use window light for that task. It is lovely light, costs nothing, and will teach you about how light needs to model a face and what facial angles like most naturally balanced which apply to any light source. It's not the tool that are important it's learning technique. The very successful wedding shooter I worked for and learned from years ago used it for all his posed portraits and the "old master painter" look came to define his style and was a clever marketing hook because at the time nobody else was shooting that way. All the rest of the shooting we did with a pair of speedlights. The lessons learned by the window helped me understand where my off camera speedlight needed to be relative to the face and why centered fill was needed.

I have both speedlights and studio lights and forced to choose between them my experience has been that I use my speedlights about 10x more than my studio lights because no looking to shoot for hire with them I quickly ran out of willing subjects who needed / wanted studio style portraits. But for most other photographs I take indoors or out I use one or two speedlights outdoors to control exposure and record a full tonal range, indoors to control the angle of the lighting on the faces.

With today's high ISOs having enough light is seldom the problem. The problem is that it isn't always hitting faces at the most flattering angles. Finding the most flattering angles is something working with window light will teach you and if you start out and master window light and a pair of speedlights you should, after getting a few paying jobs, be able to start buying some studio gear to replace the window as your portrait source. If you can't you might want to rethink your business plan.





Mar 14, 2012 at 12:18 PM
BenWitt
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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · I've done my research, but still have some questions


Thanks cgardner!
To clarify, I am going to school for material science and engineering and am working for the school paper now (same thing as when you were, not paying much but meeting loads of people). My goal for my photography is just for it to fund itself (for getting new equipment, travel, etc.) or come very close. Right now, of course, it needs to make a profit but I don't plan on it being a full time, only job, business. That being said, I do want any work I do to be of a high quality (even though I won't be doing it as a business full time I do charge competitive rates of other area photographers as to not undercut them and "steal" business from them just cause I am cheaper and don't NEED the money as much) which is why I am looking at strobes. I do really want to learn how to get the best out of natural light which is why I plan on getting some stands and reflectors at a bare minimum, but I do realize there are some times where strobes would be very helpful so that's why I am looking at some.
Knowing that you probably do much more work with your speedlights I would think that I could definitely get by (for now) with just them and work on technique for a while before investing in more equipment.

Now my question would come to whether it would be best to get some of the newer nikon speedlights, or if some of the older ones would be fine, assuming my budget could fit either option.
Thanks again for your reply, very useful!



Mar 14, 2012 at 01:34 PM
 

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cgardner
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · I've done my research, but still have some questions


Based on personal experience I'd go with newer ones.

I used pairs of Vivitar 263 and 285HV flashes in manual mode from the mid-70s until 2005 when I finally switched to a pair of 580ex speed lights for use with my Canon 20D DSLR.

I still use manual mode for portraits and other static lighting set-ups where subject-flash distance is constant but enjoy the convenience of setting the power remotely from 1/1 to 1/128th power in 1/3 stop increments. With the Vivitars I had Full, 1/2, 1/4, and 1/16th power settings and would need to adjust ratios with a combination of power and light distance and run back and forth when setting lights.

ETTL with camera metering flash isn't as predictable and consistent as manual but once FEC is dialed in for a scene (amount needed varies with scene reflectance) it works well and allows you to move around and not worry about flash distance and exposure. In ETTL mode (CLS for Nikon) with dual flash in a key over fill configuration you turn a dial to select the ratio you want based on how dark you want the shadows to be when highlights have detail.

For example if shooting a wedding with dual flash in ETTL ratios I'd first set the A:B ratio on my master to 1:2 which tells the flash I want 2x more key light (Group A) than fill (Group B). The reflected ratio is the sum of the overlap of the two in the highlights: 2+1:1 = 3:1 so the shadows will be 1-1/2 stop darker than the highlights. Then I take a shot at FEC = 0 as a starting baseline and look at the playback. Based on the clipping warning in the white dress I'd raise / lower FEC until the white dress is just under clipping retaining the detail. The camera and flash metering will adjust master and slave power automatically to keep the ratio the same as I move exposure in the highlights to retain detail. So in practice I just watch the highlight clipping warning while shooting, tweeking FEC a 1/3 stop or so as needed (metering isn't any more precise than that) and will get perfectly exposure full range shots.

The constant in lighting ratios is always exposing the skin highlights the same and white clothing below clipping. What changes is the tone of the shadows, which is controlled with fill. So the numerical ratio you select is really based on keeping detail in the shadows. If just shooting the bride you'd be most concerned with the shadows on her face. But in a shot with the groom you'd also need to consider whether the ratio is putting detail in the shaded folds of his suit your off axis "key" flash is creating.

Camera feedback and wireless control of ratio, either manually or in ETTL make that easier to do because you simply need to adjust the dial on the master flash or camera menu of some cameras, not run around the room adjusting power on the flashes. The net result of the appearance of the lighting will be similar if the same modifier is used, the system flashes just make setting the lights more convenient.

But the Catch-22 is optical triggering. You can't block the slave with a modifier, which limits modifier choices. If you do you would need radio triggers, an additional expense costing nearly as much as the flashes. I do OK with just the optical triggering in ways you can see by clicking the WWW button below and looking at my tutorials. I use Canon gear, but the Nikon optical CLS system is similar.

Regardless of how you control the flashes you'll need to "re-learn" how to compose for flash. For example if posing a bride in white dress in natural light you don't worry if the shoulder is closer to the sky than the face. But with flash if the shoulder of the bride winds up closer the flash will either correctly expose the dress and underexpose the face, or correctly expose the face and blow out the dress depending how exposure is set. Why? Flash falls off rapidly with distance, natural light doesn't. What is the solution to that problem? Change the pose so the face is closer to the key light than the shoulder of the dress, or the same distance.

That's the difference with flash. In composing every shot you need conscious situational awareness of how close everything in the scene is to the flash. The reason ETTL exposures aren't correct in a situation like the bride is that the metering will try to correctly expose the nearer object. You might want the face a foot further away correctly exposed but the metering can't know that. You must tell the metering for ETTL flash what is most important by putting it closest to the flash and be aware than everything further away will be darker. Everything you need correctly exposed needs to be kept a similar distance by either moving the face / objects close together or moving the POV of the camera so they are.

Chuck







Mar 14, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Ian Ivey
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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · I've done my research, but still have some questions


I use one SB-900 and three older SB-80 speedlights for probably 80% of what I do with flash, mainly because they're so easy to carry and set up. I use a set of Cybersync radio triggers (two trigger units and four receivers).

I also have two Einsteins, which I really enjoy using when I have the time and room to set them up for portraits. There's no doubt that you'll get better results with full studio units because they're 1) more powerful and 2) more versatile with modifiers. But the increased hassle of carrying and setting them up compared to speedlights is significant enough to limit my use of those units.

The easiest and cheapest thing to do is start with a set of speedlights and a few mods. Once you get comfortable with those and learn their limits, you'll start to recognize what you could accomplish with the additional power of some monolights, and you'll have good reasons for buying them. But you'll have plenty of room to grow into the speedlights before you hit significant limits on what you want to do.

Regarding whether to get newer or older units: the reason I have one SB-900 is for on-camera use, where it significantly outperforms the older auto-thyristor models. A used SB-800 would be almost as effective. (Skip the SB-700, which IIRC doesn't have a PC port for triggering.) At a wedding, it is very useful to be able to bounce with an on-camera flash, either for fill or as key, depending on the situation.

Then I usually use two off-camera SB-80 units on stands. For formals, I use those SB-80 units with umbrellas for group shots and portraits. For the reception, I usually set up the SB-80 units (or sometimes the Einsteins, depending on the power needs at the venue) in a cross-lighting configuration. The on-camera bounce is very important in this situation, to help fill in the sometimes-deep shadows that cross-lighting can create.

I wouldn't start with just two speedlights -- I'd start with at least three: one new unit (SB-800 or -900) and two older units for off-camera use, plus triggers. That's a great set up for learning. Add a speedlight or two to give yourself considerable versatility.




Mar 29, 2012 at 05:49 PM
williamkazak
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p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · I've done my research, but still have some questions


Put it this way, you have a lot of expenses ahead of you and a lot of learning to do once you figure out what to buy. I have been shooting weddings forever now. I would recommend for a starter kit; at least two Nikon speedlights, a flash bracket, three serious light stands, an umbrella with a black backing, a shoot thru umbrella and a bounce flat. Start with one umbrella light and a bounce flat for studio as you see what it can do for you (like windowlight) before you finally get one serious studio light not just for the power but also for the modeling light. You can trigger Nikon speedlights using the built in triggers or cord it indoors for studio. Good luck and remember to get some clients.


Mar 29, 2012 at 07:15 PM
Robr
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p.1 #9 · p.1 #9 · I've done my research, but still have some questions


cgardner wrote:
Based on personal experience I'd go with newer ones.

I used pairs of Vivitar 263 and 285HV flashes in manual mode from the mid-70s until 2005 when I finally switched to a pair of 580ex speed lights for use with my Canon 20D DSLR.

Chuck


First of all I think Chuck is an authority here on flash an light techniqes.

I use also 580 (II) flash with TT1/TT5 pocketwizards and also have a set of vivitars with PW plus II triggers.
My experience is that ETTL is nice to have but not allways consistent, but the simple manual settings on the vivitars once set right give a very consistant output and result.(puts YOU in control)
Sure I use the 580 a lot, but in controled situations I prefer the simple setup.
Try shooting at a reception in to the flash with ETTL..........

Based on my personal experience I suggest to start with the old flashes
Also to start with it is a lot cheaper.



Mar 29, 2012 at 08:30 PM
jefferies1
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p.1 #10 · p.1 #10 · I've done my research, but still have some questions


I use Canon 580 flash units for on location work. They will not overpower direct sun so if you plan to shoot on the beach in mid day they would not be a good choice. They work fine for me because I only shoot in early evening or shade. I am not trying to recreate the sun from a different direction, just use for fill or to even out background. If I wanted to make a purchase for on/off camera I would not go with the high priced TTL units. I prefer to shoot my flash in Manual 100% of the time. No need to spend $400.00 on a flash when $80.00 will do the job (assuming the quality is good like many reviews say). I do require a plug in battery pack to keep the recycle time down or allow instant double shots with little power loss.No exception for me on this point and I would pay the extra for that option alone.
While mono lights and a power pack are great, more power and modifier options they are harder to carry around and attract a lot more attention. Some areas this means going from a free shot at a park to being required to purchase a commercial permit as if making a movie for TV while everyone else fires away with the same model camera. A Big soft box, 12' stands with sandbags stands out a lot. Quality flash units are something that you will always have use for.



Apr 02, 2012 at 10:13 PM





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