This is the time of year when readers are looking for gift ideas for themselves, family, and loved ones, so, presented for your approval, is a list of gizmos, gadgets, and gear for the digitally-minded who think they “have everything” but didn’t know that they really needed more stuff to produce that ultimate image. You can use this month’s column as a shopping list for your favorite photographer or grab a Sharpie and circle all of the goodies that you want and leave it near where your spouse eats their Grape-Nuts. It’s worked for me.
I want to extend holiday greetings to Shutterbug readers during this special time of the year. While the sites and blog presented this month do not have an overall theme—holiday or otherwise—they represent the work of talented photographers who are using the Internet to communicate and display their work. These sites come to me in many ways: sometimes a site is recommended by a reader, other times by the photographer themselves, but most times through research. This month I’ve expanded my search tools to include photographers who are following me on Twitter (www.twitter.com/joefarace), where every Monday through Friday I pass along tips, tools, and techniques that will hopefully improve your photographs. This is all done in the same spirit of giving that pervades this time of year but is offered by me on Twitter throughout the year.
It’s called “continuous lighting” because it’s on continuously, much like a light bulb or the sun for that matter, enabling you to use your in-camera meter to measure the light falling on your subject. Continuous lighting lets you see how all of the light—shadows and highlights—is falling on your subject, but continuous sources sometimes use quartz or photoflood bulbs that can be hot, even dangerously so, leading to the use of the term “hot lights” to describe them. An increasing number of continuous lighting tools are now being made using other kinds of light sources, even LED, producing cool “hot” lights. And that brings us to the subject of this review—the Calumet (www.calumetphoto.com) Pro Series LED Panel Light.
Rime Lite (www.rimeliteusa.com) monolights are manufactured by Hyundae Photonics Co., Ltd., a company that’s been building high-quality studio lighting gear in Korea since 1981. They’re now being distributed in the U.S.A. by Dynalite (www.dynalite.com). The Fame Monolights are available in three different models that deliver 200, 400, and 600 watt-second output. (To see technical specifications on the three Fame monolights, go to the Instant Links section of our website, www.shutterbug.com, for this issue.) The monolights feature a circular Xenon flash tube and a modeling light that’s protected by a hard vented glass cover that easily screws on or off. Two knobs on the back of each light allow you to continuously vary the output for either the flash or the modeling light. A cluster of four LED-illuminated buttons let you turn on (or off) sound, the modeling light, the built-in slave, or the ubiquitous “test.”
Photographic umbrellas are the simplest and most inexpensive form of light modifier available and that makes them the most popular, too. Photographic umbrellas look and act just like rain umbrellas except they’re reflective and light is bounced into or shot through them, creating a big, soft light source that’s aimed at the subject. And size does matter. As photographers we live by a few important lighting rules: the closer and larger a light source is to a subject, the softer the lighting effect will be. Conversely, the smaller and further away a light source is from the subject, the harder the lighting becomes. That old lighting rule that “size matters” is important here because a large umbrella is going to produce broader, softer light for your portraits.
Richard Avedon once said, “I think all art is about control—the encounter between control and the uncontrollable.” That’s what a dedicated studio, no matter what size it may be or where it may be located, provides a photographer. It is a safe haven from the real world where, like the Outer Limits voice says, you can control the lighting, the background, and the subject. When working in this kind of environment, I control everything from the subject’s pose to their clothing and makeup and the resulting photographs tend to be as much a portrait of me as they are of my subjects. What often emerges from all that control is a style. Photographic style is not something I’m conscious about when shooting but the truth is that over time we all develop a signature way of shooting. The danger is, of course, that we keep shooting that same way or different versions of the same shot for the rest of our lives, so any style you develop must grow and change as you learn. To get you started, here are a few tools that will help enhance or define your style.
It’s hard for me to believe that it’s November already. As I write this, the trees and plants on Daisy Hill are still in full bloom but this column gives me an opportunity to thank a few people who have helped me over this year. Thanks to Tim Fiedler (www.dracophoto.com) who is responsible for the redesign and implementation of my car photography website and blog (www.joefaraceshootscars.com). He also implemented my movie blog (www.ihatepopcorn.com) with an assist from Ralph Nelson (www.ralphnelson.com) who designed the header. Thanks also to Kevin Elliott (www.digitalmd.net), the computer guru who keeps my systems running. And finally I am thankful for the continuing friendship of my pal Barry Staver who started having monthly breakfasts with me 20 years ago ostensibly to share Photoshop tips but has evolved into much more than that.
The generation of Canon EOS digital SLRs beginning with the 10D have been evolutionary, with each camera adding resolution and new features. The 60D continues in that vein but also takes a slightly different tack, adding some features from Canon’s own PowerShot series, bringing in functionality like a 3” flip-out LCD screen, and adding some creative effects that show how software is becoming an increasingly important part of any hardware offering. Each of these creative filters, including Soft Focus, Grainy Black and White, Toy Camera, and Miniature Effect, can be applied to a captured image creating a second “filtered” version, leaving the original file unaffected.
Pentax has a long history of innovation as well as a rabid fan base that loves the company’s tradition of optical excellence and originality. In fact, this fan base is the reason I’m writing this review. If you’re not already a Pentaxian you probably didn’t know that Pentax (derived from PENTAprism refleX) built the first camera to incorporate a penta-prism viewfinder and reflex mirror system in 1957 and went on to introduce the first TTL metering system in 1964. While late to the digital SLR game, when they finally arrived it was with a series of entry-level cameras that delivered impressive image quality at affordable prices. Over time they’ve dipped their toes into the semipro market and the K-5 is the latest model with professional aspirations yet it retains all the quirky uniqueness that all Pentax cameras have and that endears them to so many photographers.
Gene Kelly had an umbrella while dancing to “Singin’ in the Rain” but he didn’t use it much, preferring instead to get wet. Photographic umbrellas won’t keep you dry but are the simplest to use and most inexpensive form of lighting modifier available, and that makes them the most popular as well. These umbrellas look and act like the kind of umbrella that keeps “raindrops from falling on your head” except that in a studio lighting situation they are usually reflective and light is bounced into them, creating a big, soft light source that’s directed toward the subject. Sometimes an umbrella is covered with translucent material and instead of mounting the umbrella so light is bounced into it, a light is fired through it, turning it into a direct source. While some light is lost shooting through an umbrella, it produces more direct light, and since more light is being directed at the subject it gives you the ability to shoot at a smaller aperture than when bounced into the umbrella. If you compare the apertures produced in the illustrations you’ll see what I mean.