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Gear For Flash Photography

Lesson 2 from: Introduction to Flash for Children and Family Images

Mike Hagen

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Lesson Info

2. Gear For Flash Photography

Lesson Info

Gear For Flash Photography

What do you need? What do you really need to pull off great portraits of children and families? As crazy as my set is here today, you really only need a few things, okay? You only need a camera, with a nice lens, and we'll talk specifically about which lenses I recommend. You need a flash, of course, and I just want to make a point here, today's class is all about studio photography, indoor type of stuff. I'm not really talking about outdoor photography, we've got other classes at Creative Live, and classes that I've taught too, about using your flash outside. That's not what today's about. Today's all about inside. So you got to have a flash. You got to have some type of modifier, like an umbrella, a soft box, something along those lines. And then, backgrounds. Backgrounds are a big deal when it comes to children, family portraiture. And so we have some great examples of backdrops, and backgrounds today, and I want to show you how to incorporate that look into your final photograph. H...

ow about cameras, let's start with the cameras themselves. What do I recommend for a camera? If you are a newer photographer, just kind of getting into this, you know, what should we look at? Well, I'm a DSLR user, I use this, here's a Nikon. I've been shooting a Nikon camera for quite a number of years. After I went went Argus, then I went Pentax, and then I went Nikon. So I've been shooting Nikon for about 20 years. That said, I've shot a lot of Canon cameras in my time, and Sony cameras in my time, and they're all great. Don't worry so much about the brand. We should not wrap our photo identity up into the brand of camera we're using. That's not as important as this. You guys are all in the right spot today. You're here to learn, you're here to learn the skills, the fundamentals. More than the camera, it's about the skills that you are learning. But the camera does matter a little bit. So, I recommend a DSLR, or a mirrorless. Or an ILC, which is Interchangeable Lens Camera. So Sonys make great Mirrorless cameras, Fujis do, Olympus, all of theses, Panasonic actually makes some really good stuff too. As long as your camera has the ability to change your lens out, and the ability to make all of the settings manual, I think that's one of the important keys here. In the studio, we're not doing a lot of automated like, aperture priority, or you know, really fast frame rates, so the ultimate performance of the camera is not as important as the ability to just slow things down, and choose shutter speed this, and aperture that, ISO this. Another I want you to consider when you select your camera is what are the shutter speed, and shutter sync options? And when I say shutter sync options, I'm referring to synchronizing with the flash. Most cameras have a maximum shutter speed sync speed, too many speeds there, maximum shutter sync of about 250th of a second, or a 200th of a second. Know that, go into your manual, figure out what the flash sync speed is, and that's what you're going set your shutter speed for, for your studio environment. Today, I'll be shooting, because this camera shoots at a 250th, that's the fastest shutter speed I can use and still pop a flash onto the scene. So today I'll be making all of my photos at a 250th of a second. Another thing you might consider, is the synchronization modes, so like, when does the flash fire? Does the flash fire at the beginning of the exposure? Or does the flash fire at the end of the exposure? That's called front curtain sync, or rear curtain sync. And for studio work, it doesn't matter a whole lot. Until you start to get to action photography. And so like, today I'm going to have one of our kids do some jumping, and even at a 250th of a second and using flash, you might get a little bit of motion blur. And when you get that motion blur, you have to think, do I want the blur to be behind the movement, or do I want the blur to be in front of the movement? Well, imagine if Superman took off and his blur goes first, and then his body goes behind it, that would just look kind of funny. So, that's called a rear curtain sync. You want the blur to be behind the movement, so having the ability to set that in your camera body is very important, in my opinion. Things to look at with respect to cameras. How about lenses? You see here I've got a little bit different lens choice than a traditional portrait scenario. The lens choice that I've got are a little bit wider to medium telephoto. So for example, I'm using like a 24 to 70, or a 24 to 105, somewhere in that range. Why? Well, when you're shooting families and kids, you have a little bit more space to cover. A little bit wider angle, when you've got four, a family of four, a family of six, you can't really shoot at 85 mm, or 200 mm, because you have to be a long ways away from all of those people. In most studios, most people watching today, don't have a studio with as much space as we have here at Creative Live. Most of the time you're shooting in maybe, let's say in a garage, or you're shooting in a repurposed bedroom, maybe your kid's gone off to college, and you've taken that room and now you're shooting portraits there. You just don't have the space. So I recommend something like a 24-70, or 24 to 105. The Nikon makes a 24 to 120, which I really like, and then if you are doing just single portraits, you know of a single kid, then something like an 85mm makes a lot of sense. So today I'll be shooting, in the first two segments, I'll be shooting with my 85mm, and then when I start going to the families, I'll be switching out to my 24 to 70, and I'm going to try to bias it toward the 70mm mark. Why? Well, the reason is because when you shoot at the other end of the scale, maybe at 24, the people on the edge of the scene start to look really distorted. You'll see their heads kind of elongate and look like ovals, like really big kind of warped ovals. Never looks good, especially if Mom is near the edge of the scene. Mom doesn't look good with warped head. So stay away from 24, but I would recommend maybe sticking to the 50mm range, up to the 70mm range. This lens, I pulled this one out, this is my 14 to 24mm lens, and you maybe tempted to go really wide. Let's say you have a bedroom that you converted into a little studio, oh my goodness, there's hardly any space in that room to move around, so you may go, oh, well I can cover this with a 14, or I can cover this with a 20mm, don't do it, just don't do it. Just go into the living room, go into the garage, something like that, so you get a longer lens. Right on. So those are your lenses, oh, and one other lens that I would point out that you could use for this type of scenario, this is a fast 50, it's 50mm lens, it's a Nikon, it's an older one, I think I paid like 125 bucks for it, but Canon, Sony, Nikon, everybody's got some type of 50mm lens that isn't very expensive. You could go with that for your family portraiture and do just fine for your group shots. It's a very inexpensive way, and a very high quality lens for the money. How about your flashes? Well, there are a million choices for flashes now. You know, just ten years ago, Drew mentioned that I've written a bunch of books, and one of my first books was on the Nikon wireless flash system. And just when I wrote that, I would say it's almost ten years now, there weren't a lot of choices for flashes out there, so you were kind of, I don't want to say stuck with, but you were limited to just a Nikon flash system, or a Canon flash system. Well, today, there are literally hundreds of options for these little flashes that you can use in your studio, and they all work fairly well. You can make just about any of these flashes work. So let me talk through some options, and I'm going to start with the Nikon. I'm a Nikon shooter so I've got all the Nikon flashes, literally, I own all of them, and they're great, but there's kind of expensive. So I've got the SB-5000 here, in this hand, I've got the SB-910 here, it's a couple of generations old now. And each of these, when I bought them, were around 550 bucks each. That's a lot of money for a little speed light, a little flash. I bought them because they're fully integrated with my Nikon camera. So in other words, I can make all the settings in the camera and I can control this remotely. They talk to each other, there's a lot of really cool technology there that helps me be more efficient in the field. But again, it was almost 600 bucks for each of these flashes and I have, currently I have probably eight of them, so that's $4,800 in little Nikon flashes. Hopefully my wife is not watching this today. Hey, I got another flash, let me see it. There- see ya. She doesn't need to know how much this stuff costs, but it does cost a lot. Well, in the last five years, a lot of manufacturers from overseas have started bringing new flashes to the market. One of those is a company called Phottix, and that's what I'll be using today. This is a Phottix brand flash, this one's called the Juno. Phottix has a number of different small speed lights. This flash is radio controlled, in other words, there's a radio trigger that sends information here from the camera body. That's what this is right up here on top. So the Phottix, this is called the Ares II, transmiter, it sends information out to here with no wires, and it's not optical either. And I want to make this distinction, Nikon and Canon, actually Nikon mostly, has an optically triggered flash. In other words, there's a little sender on the camera that sends out either infra-red pulses of light, or actual visible pulses of light, and it communicates with like this Morse code type of technology, dut-da-dut, and it sends it back and forth. This is radio, and radio a lot of times is a lot more reliable. The current Nikon setup is radio triggered, which is great. The current Canon setup is radio triggered, which is great, and this here, with the Phottix, is also radio triggered. Radio triggered is great because a lot of times with the optical it has to be line of sight. In other words, the camera when it sends a pulse of light out, has to go directly to the flash, and if there's anything obscuring that, the flash won't fire and I've been bitten by that little issue a number of times over the years. So I'm happy that all of the manufacturers are now going to radio trigger. So how much is this? Well this flash is 200-something dollars, retail, and the trigger, I can't remember how much the trigger is, I'm just gonna say around 75, 100 bucks, somewhere in that range. But it's a very reliable system, and that's what I'll be shooting with today. So, now for, we'll just call it half the price of the Nikon or Canon, or Sony setup, we've got a reliable setup that you can use in your studio, at 300 bucks. So what if you don't want to spend 300 bucks? What if you want to spend 100 bucks, or less? Well, I've got two options for you there, and actually there's way more than two options available on the market. The two flashes that I'm holding in my hands here are the Aperlite, I don't know even, oh the YH-500N, okay? And then this one over here in my left, this hand, is called the Amazon Basics Flash. So the Aperlite was like $79, and the Amazon Basics was $27. I just checked the prices yesterday. So, 27 dollars. What do you lose by not you know, spending 300 bucks? Well, these don't have any special, fancy dancy triggers in them. They can trigger remotely, but that process that is uses is called slave mode. You set both of these for, it's called S-1, and you set them for S-1 and what happens is when they see a pulse of light, any pulse of light, they will fire, the flash will actually trigger. So it's kind of the lowest tech, slave mode that you can get, but it still works, and there's nothing wrong with it, you just have to make sure that each of your flashes in your setup can see the pulse of light from the camera. So 27 bucks, that ain't a bad deal. And if it fails on ya, well, sorry Amazon, but you can just throw it in the garbage and buy another one, you know? Consumer society has arrived, the consumer society. So these are great flashes, I've actually use these on Creative Live before, they produce great quality light, and it's not always about the flash itself too produce that light, it's usually about the flash modifier. The nicer the modifier, the nicer, softer the light's going to be. A couple of other things about flashes that I want to talk about. And that goes to your triggering mechanisms. I'm not going to go into the detail, but you can buy other triggers that are radio triggers. So like these are Yongnuo's, there's a bunch of them out there, you guys have all, anyone watching online right now, you can just go Google, you know, radio flash triggers, and you'll have 30 different options to buy from a bunch of different companies. I think Phottix even sells these. There's hot shoe mounted, so you just put this underneath the big flash, one of them, I'm sorry, underneath the little flash, one of them on the light stand, one of them on the camera, and you're good to go. You just need to make sure they're talking on the same bat channel, and the same bat time, and everything's good. And if that's too much money to spend, and you have an old flash that doesn't have any type of slave system in it, you can buy one of these, and I used to call these peanuts, or little, ah, little slave, there's actually slave triggers too, they just operate with this little sensor here in front, and when it sees a pulse of light, it will tell the flash above to fire. So these are like, seven dollars. So any of you out there who maybe have like, an old Vivitar 283, or old Vivitar 285, some of you are shaking your head like, I remember those flashes, yeah. You can trigger those flashes with this little seven dollar setup, and now you can produce everything that you're going to see here in the class today. Alright, I think I've got every demographic and price point covered, from hundreds and hundreds of dollars all the way down to seven dollars, if you already own a current flash. And I just want to shout out Sony. Sony's coming on strong in the photo world, a lot of you know that Sony flash systems now are excellent, and they've almost reach parity with the Nikon and the Canon flash systems, so, I don't want to say you can't do great work with Sony, 'cause Sony's stuff is really, really great too. Alright, let's talk about, a little bit about those flashes, what are the elements you're looking for within the flash body? You want the ability to use manual flash control, and more specifically, on the flash itself, I just like having a prop in my hand, so I'm going to pick this up, on the flash itself, you want to be able to adjust the flash power using the LCD panel on the back, okay? And so, some flashes that I have don't have a little LCD panel, they're kind of, they're only, like, I'll call, dumb flashes, they don't have any built-in technology in them, and it's hard to use those in a studio like this. So you want to be able to push the set button, and rotate the command dial, and change the power between full power, and half, and quarter, and eighth. That's important, in manual flash control. Another option for you is to consider shooting TTL flash, and most of those expensive Nikon, Canon, and Sony flashes, the reason why they cost so much money is because they're fully dedicated TTL flashes. TTL means Through The Lens metering, and it's really amazing what you can produce, let's say, photographing a bird, photographing a soccer player, they will react to that in real time, and you can get some really dynamic shots out in the field. But TTL in the studio, eh, I generally shy away from that. And the reason why is because, let's say you are photographing kids, well, kids are moving around. You know, one second the kid's looking at the camera, the next second the kid's like this, and looking at the camera, the next second they're looking at the floor, and so what TTL does, is TTL reacts to whatever is facing the camera. And so maybe there's more black shirt facing the camera in this photo, TTL adjusts and maybe makes the photo brighter. Maybe there's less black shirt in the next one, the next exposure's darker. And then what happens in Lightroom, when you're all said and done, is literally every photo has a different exposure. And if you're trying to batch process, TTL makes it pretty tough on you. Stick will manual, in the studio. I think you'll be happier, especially when you're learning, it also just helps your cognitive, reasoning process to go, oh yeah, I made one change by two thirds of a stop, and that's the result. It's just a really great iterative learning process. And then, make sure you understand the wireless triggering system, whether that's radio, whether that's optical, whether it's like a dedicated remote, or whether it's just a slave system, like one of those peanuts or something like that. You just want to have some way so you don't have wires going around on the set. Today, I'm going to be wireless, with my flashes, but I am going to have one wire on set, and that's my tethered cable here, and you'll see that's a pain in the rear, because I'm going to be trying to wrangle kids, and working with the parents, and I've got this tethered cable. The more wireless systems you can put in place, the better it's going to be, especially with your flashes. And this is important from a safety aspect, too. Imagine if you've got powered cables, or tethered cables going to each of your flashes, and you've got kids running around, they're going to be tripping on those, knocking over light stands, not, blood on the set is never a good, good optic, so.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Children & Family Images Lighting Diagrams
Gear List for $100 Budget
Gear List for $250 Budget
Gear List for $1000 Budget

Ratings and Reviews


Great course really love the way Mike teaches so informative with very useful tips and tricks to use in photography

Dortohy Lyner

Loved this class. Great basic essential information. Mike filled in many gaps concerning my knowledge of studio photography.

Jayne Fletcher

Amazing class! Lots of information

Student Work